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Liberty Falls to UNC Asheville to Close Out Regular Season
Liberty went into its final regular season game with a shot at the Big South regular season title for the first time since 2004, facing UNC Asheville on the road.
Myo Baxter-Bell led Liberty with 18 points, but the Flames fell to the Bulldogs, 63-45. Liberty concludes the regular season with an overall record of 19-12 and a 14-4 mark in the Big South. UNC Asheville (23-8, 15-3 BSC) ends the season with at least a share of the Big South title.
UNC Asheville's Ahmad Thomas finished the game with 31 points, six rebounds and four assists. The Bulldogs shot 51.1 percent from the floor (24-of-47), while limiting Liberty to 30.2 percent from the field (16-of-53) and 12.5 percent from beyond the arc (3-of-24).
After UNC Asheville scored the first field goal of the game, Liberty went on a 7-0 run to take the early lead. Liberty's defense was exceptional during the first six minutes, limiting the Bulldogs to 28.6 percent (2-of-7) in the first six and a half minutes. As the defense held the Bulldogs to seven points in the first nine minutes, Liberty scored 10 points in the paint led by Baxter-Bell with six points.
Looking to get back into the game, UNC Asheville applied full court pressure that led to the Bulldogs tying the game (17-17) with just over seven minutes left in the half. Baxter-Bell was the first player to reach double digits in the game as he helped the Flames regain the lead with 2:18 left in the first half off a jumper on the baseline, 24-23.
Baxter-Bell would end the first half with 14 points and three rebounds. The redshirt freshman scored the final four points for the Flames before the break, allowing Liberty to take a 26-25 halftime lead over the Bulldogs.
With UNC Asheville looking to take the three-point shot away from the Flames, Liberty took advantage of the paint as Liberty outscored UNC Asheville, 18-10, in the first half.
The Bulldogs presented a balanced scoring attack during the first 20 minutes as seven different players scored led by Ahmad Thomas with eight points to go along with two rebounds and two assists.
Despite being even in the rebounding category with 14 boards for each team, Liberty grabbed four offensive rebounds that led to eight second-chance points, while not allowing UNC Asheville to score any second-chance points. Twenty-five points was tied for the fewest points UNC Asheville has scored in a first half this season during Big South play.
UNC Asheville came out of the gates in the second half on fire, starting the half on a 7-2 run to take a 32-28 lead that was spearheaded by Thomas with five quick points. Liberty went cold during the first 10 minutes of the second half, hitting 2-of-11 attempts from the floor to all the Bulldogs to open up an eight-point lead, 40-32, with 10:29 left to play.
As Liberty continued to struggle from three, UNC Asheville jumped out to a 15-point lead (55-40) with five and half minutes left in the game. Thomas continued to carry UNC Asheville's offense finishing the second half with 23 points.
Liberty will go into the Big South Men's Basketball Championship as the third seed with the host site yet to be determined between UNC Asheville and Winthrop. Seeding and matchups will be announced by the conference office later this evening.
The Flames will receive a first-round bye before playing against the sixth seed in the second quarterfinal matchup on Thursday at 3 p.m.