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Charlotte Withstands Liberty Rally in Opener
Liberty cut a 14-point second-half deficit to six during Friday's 2013-14 season opener at Charlotte. However, the Lady Flames could not complete the comeback and the homestanding 49ers held on for a 66-56 victory at Halton Arena.
Sophomore Sadalia Ellis fueled the Lady Flames' late rally, scoring 11 of her career-high 13 points after halftime. But Liberty could not overcome 30 turnovers and a balanced Charlotte scoring attack, which saw six 49ers tally seven or more points.
The Lady Flames open the year at 0-1 for the second straight season, while Charlotte moves to 1-0 by snapping Liberty's 11-game road winning streak.
Ashley Rininger scored the Lady Flames' first five points of the campaign, consisting of a driving right-handed layup and an old-fashioned three-point play.
Hillary Sigmon's three-pointer from the left wing swished through the net at 12:32 of the opening half, capping a 7-0 Charlotte surge and giving the home team a 13-7 edge.
Liberty got to within two (17-15) on Katelyn Adams' second-chance hoop with 6:46 remaining before halftime.
But the Lady Flames only managed two points the rest of the period, as Charlotte closed the opening stanza on a 12-2 run. Tori Carter scored six of her eight first-half markers during that span, punctuated by back-to-back floaters in the last 1:22 which sent the 49ers into the locker room with a 29-17 cushion.
Both teams struggled from the field during the first half, with Charlotte shooting 42.9 percent (9-of-21) and Liberty making 33.3 percent (8-of-24) of its attempts.
The 49ers made 90.9 percent (10-of-11) of their free throws in the first 20 minutes, while Liberty was just 1-of-1. Charlotte also converted 17 Lady Flames turnovers into 15 points.
Liberty's redshirt sophomore post trio of Adams, Rininger and Catherine Kearney scored 13 of the visitors' 17 first-half points and helped the Lady Flames outrebound their hosts, 15-14.
Three-pointers by Mickayla Sanders and Emily Frazier helped Liberty trim its deficit to 37-30 at the 11:58 mark of the second half.
After being saddled with early foul trouble, the 49ers' Gabby Tyler hit her stride in the second half. She scored five straight Charlotte points, including a bank shot at 8:55 which gave her team a 49-35 edge.
Ellis scored seven points during Liberty's ensuing 10-2 surge, including a triple from the left wing at 6:42 which trimmed the gap to 51-45 and necessitated a Charlotte timeout.
The 49ers scored four points in 16 seconds, capped off by Carter's steal and layup with 5:17 to play. Her hoop bolstered the home team's advantage back to double digits at 55-45.
Liberty did not go down quietly, pulling back to within six on two more occasions in the final 3:07. However, that was as close as they got in a rematch of a 2011 WNIT opening-round tilt as Charlotte closed out a 66-56 victory.
The Lady Flames made 56.5 percent (13-of-23) of their second-half field goal tries, including 71.4 percent (5-of-7) from three-point range. For the game, Liberty ended up at 44.7 percent (21-of-47) from the field.
Charlotte's final field goal percentage was 45.7 (21-of-46). The 49ers enjoyed a sizable advantage at the charity stripe, making 22-of-27 (81.5 percent) to Liberty's 9-of-12 (75 percent).
Liberty controlled the paint, winning the rebounding battle (31-27), points in the paint (30-26) and second-chance points (19-4) categories.
Rininger shared the team scoring lead with Ellis, tossing in 13 points before fouling out after 20 minutes of playing time. Rininger also tied Adams for the game high with seven rebounds.
Frazier made a successful return from a knee injury which ended her 2012-13 season prematurely. The only current Lady Flame who appeared in the 2011 WNIT contest at Halton Arena started and played 29 minutes, distributing a game-high four assists.
Carter (14 points) and Tyler (13 points) both scored in double figures for Charlotte, while Kira Gordon had a team-best six rebounds and three steals.
Liberty will play its 2013-14 home opener Tuesday at 7 p.m. when the Lady Flames welcome preseason CAA favorite James Madison to the Vines Center. Last season, Liberty recorded its first-ever road victory over JMU, a 60-48 win on Dec. 4, 2012.