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Burkholder, JMU Spoil Liberty's Home Opener

November 12, 2013
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Ashley Rininger scored a career-high 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Liberty's 67-56 loss to James Madison on Tuesday.
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CAA Preseason Player of the Year Kirby Burkholder's 23 points and 13 rebounds helped James Madison defeat Liberty 67-56 in the Lady Flames' 2013-14 home opener, Tuesday evening at the Vines Center.

Liberty opens the season at 0-2 for just the third time in Carey Green's 15 seasons as head coach despite career-high scoring nights by sophomores Ashley Rininger (20 points) and Sadalia Ellis (15 points). The Lady Flames had won 10 straight games against in-state opponents and six consecutive home games before Tuesday.

Preseason CAA favorite James Madison is now 2-0 after avenging its 2012-13 home setback to the Lady Flames and defeating its second Commonwealth opponent in five days.

The early-going featured six lead changes and one tie, prior to a 10-2 Liberty surge. Ellis and Mickayla Sanders' back-to-back three-pointers wrapped up the run, giving the Lady Flames a 15-10 edge with 8:24 remaining in the opening half.

Liberty led 21-19 before a 9-0 burst by the visitors. Nikki Newman's triple swished through the net at the 3:35 mark, putting JMU on top by a 28-21 count.

The Dukes' lead got as large as eight points (32-24) before James Madison took a 32-27 edge into halftime.

Both teams struggled shooting the ball from the field during the first 20 minutes. Liberty made 29.2 percent (7-of-24) of its field goal tries, with four of its connections coming from three-point range. JMU connected at a 32.3 percent (10-of-31) rate.

James Madison was able to convert 13 Liberty turnovers into 14 points in the first half.

Ellis (9 points) and Rininger (6 points, 5 rebounds) were Liberty's first-half statistical leaders. Burkholder paced the Dukes with nine points and six boards.

Burkholder scored five points during an 8-0 James Madison run early in the second half, which culminated with two Jazmon Gwathmey free throws. Her foul shots made it 40-28, JMU, with 17:11 to play.

Rininger helped Liberty battle back, scoring the Lady Flames' first 10 points of the second half. Fellow post player Catherine Kearney canned a layup with 12:39 to play, bringing the home team within 43-39 after a 6-0 surge.

Burkholder then tallied four straight points from the free throw line, doubling James Madison's advantage to 47-39 with 11:31 left.

Liberty cut the deficit to six points on four occasions, including at 57-51 on Rininger's bank shot at 6:10.

Precious Hall then scored the first five points of JMU's game-sealing 7-0 surge over the next 2:51, and the Dukes went on to wrap up a 67-56 victory.

James Madison shot just 32.7 percent (18-of-55) on the night, but excelled at the free throw line (26-of-33 for 78.8 percent), points off turnovers (23-4 advantage) and second-chance points (22-9 advantage).

JMU also finished with a 42-37 rebounding edge, while holding Liberty to 36 percent (18-of-50) from the field. The Lady Flames connected on seven triples on the night but shot only 61.9 percent (13-of-21) on free throws.

Rininger, who finished with 14 second-half points, completed her first double-double of the season, and the fourth of her career, with 10 boards. Ellis had made only seven career three-pointers before hitting four of them on Tuesday. The sophomore also dished out a game-high four assists.

Burkholder was joined in double digits by Gwathmey, who contributed a dozen points and five rebounds to James Madison's victory.

Liberty will return to action at the Vines Center next Tuesday (Nov. 19) for its first home contest against Virginia since Nov. 26, 2002, with tipoff set for 7 p.m. The last time the Cavaliers visited Lynchburg, Liberty recorded its first-ever victory over a Top 25 opponent, defeating No. 23 Virginia by a 77-69 score in overtime.