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Lady Flames Take Over 1st Place in Nail-biter
Visiting High Point came back from a 12-point second-half deficit to take a pair of late leads, Saturday evening at Liberty. However, Avery Warley closed out a double-double by scoring the last four Lady Flame points in a tight, 58-57 win at the Vines Center.
High Point had one final chance to win the game, but Erin Reynolds' driving layup in the closing seconds was blocked by Devon Brown, and Emily Frazier secured a crucial defensive rebound.
Combined with Radford's home loss to UNC Asheville on Saturday, Liberty's fifth straight win gives the Lady Flames sole possession of first place in the Big South at 8-1. The Lady Flames are now 14-8 overall, after closing out a regular season sweep of the Panthers.
High Point drops to 10-12 overall and 4-5 in conference play, thanks in part to missing 17 straight three-point attempts to close out the game. The Panthers are now 2-10 in games decided by 10 points or fewer this season, including 0-2 against Liberty.
The Lady Flames scored on their first three possessions of the evening, taking an early 6-0 lead on Avery Warley's layup off of a nice feed from Tolu Omotola.
High Point countered with an 8-2 surge, led by Amy Dodd's five points. Her 15-foot jumper at 15:34 leveled the score at 8-8.
The two teams were knotted up, 12-12, before an 8-0 Liberty burst. Jelena Antic beat the shot clock buzzer with a mid-range jumper at the 9:02 mark, putting the Lady Flames in front by a 20-12 count.
The Panthers chipped away at the deficit, but could get no closer than five the rest of the half. Liberty took a 30-23 lead into halftime.
The Lady Flames shot 46.2 percent (12-of-26) before the break, while High Point hit only 29 percent (9-of-31) of its attempts. Liberty's percentage was aided by many shots from close range. The Lady Flames scored 20 points in the paint during the opening stanza.
Liberty also owned a 25-15 first-half rebounding advantage, with Omotola and Warley collecting eight rebounds apiece.
Warley and Brown led all scorers during the first half, tallying eight points apiece. Erin Reynolds and Cheyenne Parker each had seven first-half markers for the Panthers.
The Lady Flames started out the second half well, boosting their lead to a dozen points, 39-27, on Omotola's layup with 15:45 remaining on the clock.
High Point then got right back into the game, thanks in large part to Parker. The reigning Big South Freshman of the Week had four points during a 9-2 surge. Frances Fields then cut her team's deficit to 43-38 by making a pair of free throws at the 11:03 mark.
Antic temporarily slowed High Point's momentum by draining an NBA-range triple from the right wing on the Lady Flames' next trip to the offensive end.
However, Antic's long-range connection was Liberty's last made field goal for a span of 5:54. The extended drought enabled High Point to take its first lead of the night, 49-48, on a pair of Dodd free throws with 5:00 left.
Brown then drilled back-to-back layups in the next 45 seconds, reclaiming the advantage for the home team, 52-49.
Liberty remained in front until the 2:30 mark, when Dodd's driving layup briefly gave the black-clad Panthers a 55-54 advantage.
Frazier and Warley executed a successful pick-and-roll on Liberty's next possession, resulting in a made seven-foot jumper by Warley. Her hoop proved to put the Lady Flames ahead for good, at 56-55.
After the Lady Flames got a defensive stop, Warley tipped in Brown's missed shot to bolster the Liberty edge to 58-55 with 1:12 to play.
Parker's basket from close range at the 43.2-second mark made the score 58-57, in favor of the homestanding Lady Flames.
High Point forced a shot clock violation, setting the stage for Reynolds' previously mentioned attempt at a game-winning layup which was rejected by Brown.
Liberty shot 50 percent (24-of-48) for the third straight game, improving to 77-1 under head coach Carey Green when making at least half of its field goals. Meanwhile, High Point ended up shooting 36.2 percent from the floor (21-of-58), including just 13 percent (3-of-23) from beyond the three-point arc.
Liberty's 45 percent (9-of-20) free throw shooting nearly cost the Lady Flames. However, the Lady Flames' win was highlighted by a 42-26 edge on the boards, 42 points in the paint and 14 fast break points.
Warley led the Lady Flames in both points (18) and rebounds (14), accounting for her ninth double-double in the last 11 games. She also ties Elena Kisseleva for third place in program history with 25 career double-doubles.
Brown added 15 points and three steals, while Antic contributed 10 points and a team-high five assists to the Lady Flames' effort, equaling her career high for helpers.
Omotola chipped in seven points and matched her career high with 12 rebounds. She also had 12 boards during the Lady Flames' first matchup with High Point this season.
For High Point, Parker tossed in 12 of her game-high 19 points during the second half and also pulled down a team-best six rebounds. Dodd contributed 14 points, while Mackenzie Maier distributed five assists.
Liberty will face Gardner-Webb for the second time in 13 days when the Runnin' Bulldogs visit the Vines Center, Feb. 12 at 5 p.m. The Lady Flames will attempt to post a season sweep of the defending Big South regular-season champions, after notching a 68-56 win at Gardner-Webb on Monday.
The Liberty-Gardner-Webb tilt will tip off a women's/men's basketball doubleheader at the Vines Center. The contest will be followed at 8 p.m. by a matchup between the Liberty and High Point men's squads.
High Point will return home for a Feb. 12 matinee against Charleston Southern. Tipoff is slated for 4 p.m. at the Millis Center.