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Liberty Stumbles to JMU in CIT Quarterfinals
As the fourth-youngest team in the nation, Liberty finishes with 23 wins on the season, tying the 1997 season for the second most in program history. The mark also ties the 1997 club for most during Liberty's 21-year Division I history.
When the game hit the 15:24 mark in the first stanza, Liberty staked themselves to a narrow 9-7 advantage, courtesy of the "Smith" show. Austin Smith started things with a jumper at 19:16, followed by seven straight points by Anthony Smith, including two buckets of the three-point variety.
James Madison stayed close during the run, thanks to a three-point bucket by Kyle Swanston and baskets by Dazzmond Thornton and Devon Moore.
The remainder of the half was a seesaw battle between the Commonwealth programs. Liberty held a 16-13 advantage after Jesse Sanders tallied two points at 11:30. Swanston tied the game up, 16-16, with a three-pointer at 10:51.
Austin Smith registered three free throws, two coming at the 8:22 mark, helping Liberty regain the lead by three points, 19-16. Swanston continued to hit buckets for the Dukes, helping James Madison to its first lead of the game, 24-23, after connecting on back-to-back treys at 4:02.
Anthony Smith scored six straight points, giving the Flames a 29-26 lead, capping the run at 2:45. James Madison countered quickly, scoring seven straight points to take its largest lead of the opening stanza, 33-29.
Liberty answered quickly itself, finishing the opening period on a 5-2 run, sending the Flames into the intermission with a narrow one point advantage, 34-33. Two Sanders free throws and an Anthony Smith bucket capped the jaunt.
Thanks in part to Anthony Smith's 20 first half points, Liberty hit 42.3 percent (11-of-26) of its first half shots, including 33.3 percent (3-of-9) from three-point land.
James Madison connected on 35.0 percent (14-of-40) from the floor, including 27.8 percent (5-of-18) from beyond the arc.
Pierre Curtis scored a bucket at 17:32 to give James Madison a two point advantage coming out of the intermission, 39-37, as the Dukes netted six of the second stanza's eight points.
Liberty regained the lead, 40-39, with 16:30 left after a Seth Curry bucket and a Tyler Baker free throw. Curtis tallied five straight points, giving the Dukes the lead back, 44-43, with 15:08 left to play in the contest.
Kyle Ohman hit his 100th three-pointer of the season at 14:22 to help Liberty take a one point advantage back from James Madison, 48-47.
The Dukes then stormed ahead via an 18-2 surge. James Madison hit three trifectas during the run, including two by Swanston. Julius Wells punctuated the run with a bucket at 11:06, giving the Dukes a 13 point lead, 63-50.
Liberty whittled the score down to 10 points, 66-56, with 6:55 left to play after a Johnny Stephene layup, but the Flames could not inch any further, as James Madison closed out the game on a 22-9 run.
Liberty's shooting touched cooled in the second period, finishing the contest at a 38.2 percent (21-of-55) success rate, including 22.7 percent (5-of-22) from three-point land.
Anthony Smith led the Flames with a team-high 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting. The Plano, Texas native concludes his storied Liberty career with 1,754 career points, ranking him No. 9 all-time in the Big South Conference, No. 6 all-time in the Liberty annals and No. 2 in Liberty's Division I era.
Sanders chipped in a career-high 15 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Sanders' seventh helper set the Liberty program record for assists by a freshman, breaking Matt Hildebrand's 1991 mark of 136. Sanders finished his freshman campaign with 137.
James Madison used an efficient second half, hitting at a 67.9 percent (19-28), to finish the game at 48.5 percent (33-of-68) from the floor. The Dukes hit 39.4 percent (13-of-33) from three-point range, including a 9-of-20 effort from Swanston. The James Madison forward set a Vines Center record for opponent three-point field goals with nine, breaking the previous mark set by Leslie Ballard of Radford on Feb. 21, 1998 and later tied this season by Shaun Smith of UNC Asheville on Jan. 31. Swanston's facility record ties an overall program best for an opponent, tying Coastal Carolina's Dexter Moore's output this season on Feb. 16.
Swanston led all scorers with 27 points, all from beyond the arc. Curtis added 18 points and seven assists, while Wells and Devon Moore chipped in 14 points in the winning effort.
James Madison advances to the semifinals of the CIT on Wednesday and will face Old Dominion.
James Madison Head Coach Matt Brady – "Our team did a great job of moving the basketball and sharing the basketball. We made so many threes, and we also guarded the threes well. Our defense was terrific, and we put our best defensive player on Seth Curry. We put so much pressure on the three-point line at the offensive end, and then we were able to drive to the basket. To win on the road in the postseason is significant, and sets the bar for all future teams."
Liberty Head Coach Ritchie McKay- "We just didn't take advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves. Our weakness all year has been not being patient. We got impatient, and JMU took advantage of it. Defensively, we broke down time and time again, but a lot of credit goes to JMU. We got a taste of the postseason, and we had a lot of good things happen. We're obviously excited about the future."