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Flames Drop Tight Decision to UNC Asheville
The contest served as the Big South Conference opener for both squads. Liberty drops to 8-8 on the season and 0-1 in Big South play. UNC Asheville improves to 12-4 and 1-0 in Big South play.
The game started out at a slow offensive pace, with the score knotted at six apiece after K.J. Garland hit a jumper in the lane at 15:32.
The Bulldogs then scored seven-straight points to take a 13-6 lead. The spurt was finished off by a Bryan Smithson bucket at 12:20. UNC Asheville extended the lead to 23-8, courtesy of a 10-2 run, capped by a Kenny George dunk at 10:13.
Liberty then found its outside shooting touch, finishing the half on a 23-11 run, trailing by three, 34-31, going into the intermission. The spurt included three-point buckets by Rell Porter, B.J. Jenkins and two by Jeremy Anderson, his second dropping through the cylinder with two-tenths of a second remaining in the first stanza.
Liberty's surge late in the first half allowed them to shoot 47.6 percent (10-of-21) from the floor, including 45.5 percent (5-of-11) from three-point range.
UNC Asheville shot 61.9 percent (13-of-21) from the floor, helping the Bulldogs stake themselves to the narrow intermission lead.
The Bulldogs came out of the break holding a slight 15-10 advantage over the first five-and-a-half minutes, extending the lead to 49-41. The surge was capped by a three-point bucket by Smithson at 14:32.
The two teams played evenly over the next six minutes, scoring 13 points each, enabling the Bulldogs to maintain a 62-54 advantage. UNC Asheville scored the final four points of the stretch, capped by K.J. Garland's bucket at 8:20.
The Flames took their first lead since 16:09 in the first half when Kyle Ohman's connected on a three-point bucket from the wing at 3:34, finishing off a 14-5 run, giving Liberty a 68-67 advantage.
After Ohman's bucket, Alex McLean dumped in two points off his own offensive rebound to extend the lead to three points, 70-67, with 2:11 left in the contest. Those would be the last points Liberty would score.
On UNC Asheville's next trip down the floor, Smithson stuck a three-point bucket, his fourth of the game, tying the contest at 70 apiece with 2:02 left to play.
A lose ball foul by Ohman with 55 seconds left in the contest sent Reid Augst to the line to shoot two foul shots. Augst hit the front end of the two-shot foul, giving the Bulldogs a 71-70 lead.
A missed Ohman three-point attempt with 18 seconds left forced Liberty to foul. Anthony Smith fouled Garland, who sank both attempts from the foul line, increasing the Bulldog lead to 73-70. Ohman missed once more from three-point range with five seconds left.
Rell Porter fouled Garland on the rebound, sending the senior to the line for two shots. Garland made the second attempt with two seconds on the clock, clinching the win for UNC Asheville.
Liberty made 41.8 percent (23-of-55) of its shots, including 40.6 percent (13-of-32) of its three-point attempts. Ohman led the way for Liberty in the scoring column, with 14 points and four assists, while Bannister tallied 13 points and dished out a game-high eight assists. McLean and Porter chipped in 12 and 11 points, respectively, as four Flames tallied double figures.
The Bulldogs shot 60.5 percent (26-of-43) from the floor, becoming the first Liberty opponent to shoot over 60 percent this season. Smithson tallied a game-high 31 points on near-perfect 10-of-12 shooting, and George chipped in 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting. No other Bulldog scored more than eight points.
Liberty returns to action on Tuesday when the Flames travel to Rock Hill, S.C., to take on the Winthrop Eagles. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., inside the Winthrop Coliseum. The contest will be broadcast live on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN).