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Second Half Blitz Not Enough As Bulldogs Down Flames
It was a tail of two halves as Liberty scored its second-lowest point total in the first half and its third-highest in the second half, but the second half effort wasn't enough as UNC Asheville downed Liberty, 77-65, Wednesday evening, at the Justice Center.
With the victory, UNC Asheville raises its record to 5-12 overall and 3-4 in Big South Conference action, while the loss drops Liberty's overall record to 4-14 on the season and 1-5 in league play, including five-straight conference games.
UNC Asheville wasted little time in the game as the Bulldogs jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead after Michael Ellis converted on a pair of free throws just three minutes into the game. Liberty finally got on the scoreboard as Larry Blair (Jr., G, Charlotte, N.C.) scored on a fast break lay-up at the 16:54 mark. However, the Flames would score just one more basket over the next seven minutes of play as Oliver Holmes converted on two free throws to give the Bulldogs a 20-5 lead at the 10:23 mark.
Liberty finally started to get its offense going over the next six minutes of play as a lay-up by Blair with 4:09 left to play trimmed UNC Asheville's lead to 10 points, 25-15, but the Bulldogs outscored Liberty 14-1 over the remainder of the half to take a 39-16 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Flames shot just 19.4 percent from the field in the opening half (6-of-31) en route to their second fewest points in a half this season (lowest was 15 points against Radford).
UNC Asheville continued to extend its advance over the first five minutes of the second half as a lay-up by Chad Mohn gave the Bulldogs what would be their largest lead of the game at 30 points, 49-19, with 15:21 left to play.
A lay-up by Eric Bigby (Jr., F, Meade, Md.) started a 14-4 run for the Flames as Liberty cut the lead back to 20 points, 53-33, after a Blair three-pointer at the 11:03 mark. The Flames continued to chip away at the lead over the next five minutes a Blair converted on 1-of-2 free throw attempts with 6:12 left to play to cut the lead to 13 points, 61-48.
The two teams traded baskets back and forth over the next several minutes and Liberty got within 11 points, 73-62, on a three-pointer by Blair with 57 seconds left, but the rally would come up short as Liberty's 49 points in the second half wasn't good enough to erase the first deficit.
"Tonight is a sign that we have a lot of holes in our team," stated head coach Randy Dunton after the loss. "We gave a great effort in the second half, but we can't keep on putting ourselves in that position to have to make a second-half run to get back into a game."
"We certainly have talent on this team, but we need to play together as a team for a full 40 minutes to be able to win in this league. We are a young and inexperience team that is learning a lot through these difficult times."
Blair posted his second-straight 20-point performance as the junior netted 29 points, including 23 in the second half, while Damien Hubbard (Jr., G/F, Boyce, Va.) recorded his third double-double of the year with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Anthony Smith (Fr., G, Plano, Texas) rounded out Liberty's double-figurer scores with 12 points, while adding three assists and two steals.
UNC Asheville was paced by a pair of 19-point games by Joseph Barber and Oliver Holmes, while Ellis finished the game with 11 points.
Liberty will continue its three-game road swing on Saturday when they travel to Conway, S.C. to face Coastal Carolina, who is coming off an impressive seven-point victory over Winthrop, ending the Eagles 24-game home winning streak. The Coastal-Liberty game is set to tip-off at 4 p.m. in Kimbel Arena.