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Asheville Holds off Flames' Second-Half Surge, Saturday
Squaring off with UNC Asheville, Saturday afternoon, the Liberty men's basketball team nearly pulled off the comeback after being down by as much as 14 during the first half. With the Bulldogs up by 13 at halftime, Liberty took advantage of Asheville's 10-minute plus scoring drought from the field, eventually taking the lead with 9:06 to play.
Liberty led by two with just over a minute to go and had possession following an Asheville turnover, before the Bulldogs' leading scorer, freshman Andrew Rowsey, stripped the ball and laid it back in to tie the game. Asheville took the lead with free throws and held a three-point advantage in the final second. Senior forward Antwan Burrus took one last three-point attempt for Liberty from the right side, but the ball careened over the rim, giving Asheville the narrow 75-72 victory.
Liberty falls to 9-16 overall and 3-7 in Big South play, while Asheville improves 13-11 on the year and 7-3 in conference action. The Bulldogs have now taken four-straight contests against the Flames and lead the series, 31-20.
Liberty shot 41.0 percent (25-of-61) in the contest, while Asheville concluded the afternoon shooting 48.1 percent (25-of-52). Despite hitting over 50 percent in the first half and connecting on nine three-pointers, Asheville went 7-for-18 (38.9 percent) from the floor and 0-of-9 from downtown during the second stanza.
The Flames edged Asheville in the paint (46-41) and at the foul line (19-16). Liberty capitalized on points off turnovers (23-8) and second chance points (18-3). The Bulldogs held the advantage from long range (27-9) and on fast break points (23-14).
Receiving his first start since Jan. 1, Burrus paced the Flames with 22 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Andrew Smith finished with his third straight double-double, chipping in 14 points and 10 boards. Tomasz Gielo and Joe Retic rounded out Liberty's double-figure scorers with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Jaron Lane led all scorers with 29 points, followed by Rowsey, who had 23 points.
Asheville jumped out to a 15-5 lead during the opening 4:17, receiving key three-pointers from Rowsey and Lane. Liberty then went on a 7-0 run a pair of Retic free throws, a JR Coronado layup and a Gielo three-pointer. The Bulldogs returned the favor with a 7-0 burst of their own to go back up by 10, 22-12, at 11:30.
The Flames outscored Asheville, 10-3, during the next 3:45. Burrus and Smith each had four points in an 8-0 Liberty run. Smith cemented the surge with an authoritative jam off a Davon Marshall assist to make it 25-22 at the 7:45 mark.
Asheville pulled away once again, taking its largest lead of the half (14 points) thanks to a Littlejohn three-pointer with 2:06 left in the period. Two minutes later, Rowsey ended the half with a trey of his own, helping the Bulldogs carry a 47-34 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
Liberty shot 45.2 percent (14-of-31) from the field in the first half, compared to 52.9 percent (18-of-34) for Asheville. The Bulldogs, who entered the contest averaging just under seven three-pointers a game, knocked down 9-of-13 (69.2 percent), while the Flames went 2-of-6 (33.3 percent) from long range.
The tandem of Burrus and Smith each had 10 tallies for Liberty in the first half. Burrus also had seven boards to accompany his scoring total.
Lane led all scorers with 15 points, going 6-of-7 from the field and 3-of-3 from three-point land. Rowsey was also a perfect 4-of-4 from long distance to finish the period with 12 tallies.
Asheville began the second half with a 6-0 run, but went scoreless from the field during the ensuing 10:12, receiving just five free throws during the span. Liberty took advantage of the drought, outscoring the Bulldogs, 26-5.
Burrus gave the Flames their first lead with a layup at 9:06. Smith followed up with a monster dunk 46 ticks later, but was assessed a technical after play, allowing Lane to sink 1-of-2 free throws. Later, Lane the knotted contest at 7:54, giving Asheville its first field goal since the 18:06 mark. Burrus answered with a free throw, while Smith tacked on a layup to put Liberty ahead, 63-60, with 6:06 left to play.
Following Rowsey's clutch play at 1:10, Asheville hit four free throws to take a four-point lead. Marshall was later fouled with four second to go on a three-point attempt and connected on all three shots to make it a one-point game. Lane tacked on two more free throws, setting up Burrus' three-point attempt and the 75-72 final.
Liberty returns to action, Tuesday night, playing host to Gardner-Webb. Game time is slated for 7 p.m., with the contest airing live on the Liberty Flames Sports Network, MASN, Comcast Sports South, ESPN3 and the Big South Network.