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Liberty Falls at Charleston Southern, 80-66
The Liberty men's basketball team stepped into Charleston Southern's Buc Dome, Saturday afternoon, hoping to rebound from a narrow loss three days earlier. Unfortunately for the Flames, the Buccaneers had not forgotten the sting of falling to Liberty in the 2013 Big South Championship finals, last season. Led by a 35-point point effort from Sheldon Strickland, Charleston Southern jumped out to an early lead and did not look back en route to an 80-66 decision.
With the defeat, Liberty falls to 9-14 on the year and 3-5 in conference action. Charleston Southern, who came into the game averaging 84.3 ppg (second in the Big South) and nearly 11 three-pointers per game (second in the nation), improves 10-11 and 4-4 in Big South play.
Liberty shot 33.8 percent (22-of-65) from the field, while the Buccaneers finished with a 50.0 percent shooting (29-of-58), including 41.7 percent (10-of-24) from three-point range.
Davon Marshall and Andrew Smith paced Liberty with 15 points, apiece, followed by John Caleb Sanders, who had 11 points. Smith also added a career-high 13 rebounds.
Along with Strickland's 35 tallies, Will Saunders and Arlon Harper added 14 and 11 points, respectively for the Buccaneers.
Charleston Southern showcased its three-point prowess in the opening seven-plus minutes, knocking down six of its first eight attempts from long range to hold a 24-7 lead at the 12:48 mark. Strickland led the charge, going 3-of-3 from three-point range during the span, followed by two treys from Saunders and one by Harper.
Strickland continued to display the hot hand. The senior made it a 20-point game, 29-9, knocking down another three-pointer with 10:22 left in the period. Liberty countered with back-to-back three-pointers from Marshall and Tomasz Gielo to cut the deficit to 14. Strickland answered again with his fifth trey. Following two free throws by Sanders, Strickland connected on a short jumper to kick start an 8-0 run. Alhaji Fullah capped the burst with a jump shot to give Charleston Southern its largest lead of the half (23 points), 40-17 at 6:37.
Strickland hit his sixth three-point basket of the half with 2:03 left in the period, ultimately helping Charleston Southern carry a 45-27 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Liberty concluded the opening stanza shooting 38.5 percent (10-of-26), compared to 50.0 percent (16-of-32) for the Buccaneers. Charleston Southern went 9-of-17 from three-point land, including a 6-of-7 effort for Strickland. The Flames went 3-of-9 from downtown during the half.
Strickland's six three-pointers helped him finish the opening 20 minutes with 20 points, followed by Saunders who had 10. Andrew Smith led Liberty with eight tallies.
Charleston Southern led by as much as 27 with 13:33 left on the clock in the second half. Liberty then went on a 13-2 run, which included seven points from Marshall and a lighting fast, windmill dunk by Smith. Strickland halted Liberty's burst with one of his own, scoring seven straight points, single-handedly. Marshall answered with his third three-pointer of the contest to make it 70-50 with 6:08 remaining.
Liberty outscored the Buccaneers, 10-4, during the next 4:43 to cut the deficit to 14 with 1:25 left. However, the Flames were forced to foul during the remainder of the contest, eventually setting up the 80-66 final.
The Flames return to action inside the Vines Center, Tuesday night, against Winthrop. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m., with the contest airing live on the Liberty Flames Sports Network, MASN and ESPN3.