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Liberty Earns Share of Regular-Season Title
Liberty raced out to a 17-2 lead at the outset of Saturday evening's game at High Point. However, the Panthers came back to tie the game in the second half, and the Lady Flames needed Megan Frazee's 26 points and 14 rebounds and Courtney Watkins' four second-half three-pointers to hold off the Panthers, 78-68, at the Millis Center. With the victory, Liberty clinches at least a share of the Big South conference regular-season title.
Liberty, which extended its winning streak to 13, is now 24-2 overall and 9-0 in conference action. The Lady Flames completed a season sweep of High Point for the first time since 2003-04 and won for the first time in their last three tries at the Millis Center.
High Point drained six three-pointers after the intermission, but lost its third-straight contest. The Panthers are 12-14 overall and 4-6 in conference play after falling in its home finale.
High Point only made one of its first 14 field goal attempts, an Amber Manuel layup at 15:59. The Panthers' early offensive struggles enabled Liberty to open the game with a 17-2 surge. Megan Frazee and Moriah Frazee combined for 13 of the visitors' points during the run, which spanned the first 8:21 of action.
The homestanding Panthers answered with nine-consecutive points, keeping Liberty off the scoreboard for the next 3:38. LaTeisha Dean contributed five tallies to the burst, which concluded with a hoop by Manuel at the 8:35 mark. Manuel's second basket of the early-going trimmed her squad's deficit to 17-11.
High Point pulled to within three, 25-22, when Jurica Hargraves made a runner in the lane, 3:08 before the intermission. Her connection capped a 5-0 Panther run.
Four-straight Liberty markers halted the High Point run and rebuilt the advantage to seven. The Lady Flames held a 32-27 edge at the break, as Rebecca Lightfoot scored on a putback as the halftime buzzer sounded.
Liberty made use of its size advantage during the opening half, scoring all 32 of its points either inside the paint or at the charity stripe. The Lady Flames also owned a 28-15 rebounding edge, with Megan Frazee hauling in seven caroms.
Neither team shot the ball well from the outside. Liberty misfired on all five of its opening-half three-point attempts, while High Point went 1-for-12.
Megan Frazee paced all players with 10 points during the first 20 minutes, while Moriah Frazee chipped in with nine markers for the Lady Flames.
Manuel, the lone High Point senior playing her final game at the Millis Center, went for nine points and three boards prior to the break, leading her squad in both categories.
The Lady Flames recorded the initial two points of the second half, boosting their lead to seven prior to an 8-1 High Point run. Hargraves connected on two triples from the left wing during the surge. Her second three-pointer knotted the game at 35 apiece, at 16:23.
Megan Frazee posted eight points during Liberty's ensuing 11-1 burst. The junior took a rebound coast-to-coast for a layup, with 13:17 left in the second half, making the score 46-36 in favor of the visitors.
Liberty still led by 10 before an 8-3 High Point surge trimmed the advantage in half. Andrea Tucker canned a layup at 8:25, pulling her team to within 54-49.
Courtney Watkins and Ayonna Thompson then exchanged three-pointers on the game's next three possessions. Watkins' second trifecta of the flurry put Liberty ahead by a 60-52 count at 7:25.
High Point notched the next six points, cutting the gap to 60-58 on Hargraves' third triple of the half, with 5:48 remaining.
Watkins continued her stellar second-half shooting, making two more triples during an 8-2 Liberty surge. Her connection from the top of the arc at the 3:40 mark bolstered the Lady Flames' edge to double digits at 68-58.
High Point trimmed its disadvantage to seven on two occasions, the second coming at 71-64 with 1:31 left, when Dean made a field goal.
Liberty then put away the pesky Panthers by tallying six-straight markers, four of which were scored by freshman Rachel McLeod. Fellow floor general Allyson Fasnacht closed the run with two free throws at the 39.3-second mark, lifting the lead back up to 77-64.
The Lady Flames' final margin of victory was 78-68, the closest of Liberty's first nine Big South victories this season.
Liberty held off the home team's numerous comeback attempts by shooting 52.2 percent (12-of-23) from the field, including five made three-pointers, during the second half. The Lady Flames also sank 17 of their 23 foul shots (73.9 percent) after the break, in a physical contest which featured 26 fouls and saw four players foul out.
Megan Frazee totaled 16 of her 26 points and half of her 14 rebounds after the break. Her work on the glass helped Liberty outrebound High Point, 49-31. She also moved into fifth place on Liberty's all-time rebounding list, with 634 boards. Frazee went 12-of-13 from the free throw line, but saw her streak snapped at 21-straight made charity tosses. The school record is 22.
Watkins joined Frazee in double figures, notching 13 of her 15 points during the second half. She made four three-pointers for the second-straight game, matching a career high. All four of her triples came during the final 20 minutes.
Lightfoot also equaled a career high, pulling down 10 rebounds. Ironically, her first 10-rebound effort came in Liberty's home win over High Point this season.
Hargraves headed High Point's three double-digit scorers, tallying 14 of her 19 markers in the second half. She was one of two Panthers with a trio of three-pointers. High Point's other proficient long distance shooter was Thompson, who finished with 11 points.
Dean contributed 10 points to the High Point effort and paced all players in both assists (4) and steals (3).
The Lady Flames will return to the road Wednesday, traveling to Rock Hill, S.C., to face Winthrop (18-9, 6-3 Big South). Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., at the Winthrop Coliseum.
A victory over the Eagles would give Liberty the outright Big South regular-season title and the No. 1 seed for the Big South Women's Basketball Championship. The Lady Flames defeated Winthrop by a 76-51 count at the Vines Center on Feb. 2.