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Chanticleers Hold off Relentless Flames, Saturday
Playing its third straight contest on the road, the Liberty men's basketball team stepped into Kimbel Arena, Saturday afternoon, to take on Big South preseason No. 2 pick, Coastal Carolina. The Flames hung with the Chanticleers for the majority of the matchup, but the home team managed to pull away down the stretch to earn the 78-68 victory.
With its sixth straight defeat, Liberty falls to 2-7 on the season and 0-2 in Big South play. Coastal Carolina improves to 7-1 overall and 2-0 in conference action.
Chris Gradnigo paced the Chanticleers with 23 points on 8-for-16 shooting from the field and 5-for-9 shooting from behind the three-point arc. Tavares Speaks netted 11 second-half points to lead the Flames with 15.
Liberty jumped out to its largest lead in six games, putting up six unanswered points on the scoreboard during the opening 2:44. Tavares Speaks highlighted the burst with four points, connecting on two jumpers. The Chanticleers answered with four points of their own off a Sam McLaurin free throw and a three-pointer by Chris Gradnigo to cut Liberty's lead to two. Antwan Burrus upped the advantage back to four at 15:29, sinking a layup to make it, 8-4.
Two Joel Vander Pol free throws moved the Flames' lead back to a six points. After Gradnigo sliced the advantage in half with another three-pointer, David Minaya responded with a long two-point jumper on the other end to make it, 12-4. Coastal then chipped away at the bugle with four straight points on buckets from Anthony Raffa and McLaurin to put the Chanticleers within one. Minaya tacked on two more free throws, but Gradnigo erased the cushion at 11:52 with his third three of the game, knotting the contest at 14.
With the game tied at 16, Coastal Carolina proceeded to go on a 6-0 run off a traditional three-point play by Dexter Moore and Gradnigo's fourth trey of the game. Chene Phillips broke up the burst at 8:54, driving to the basket for a layup to cut the deficit to 22-18.
The Chanticleers answered with another 6-0 spurt, receiving baskets from Gradnigo, Raff and Jon Pack to take a 10-point advantage. Minaya prevented the Chanticleers from stretching the lead anyt further, sinking a jump shot to trim the advantage to eight points, 28-20 with 5:29 left in the half.
Liberty managed to climb within six, thanks to a Phillips jumper at 3:34. However, the home team countered with back-to-back treys from Moore. The pair of three-point shots put the Chanticleers ahead, 38-28, at the 2:35 mark.
A foul just before the halftime buzzer put Jesse Sanders on the foul line for three shots. Liberty's floor general connected on 2-of-3 attempts to send the contest to halftime at 43-36.
For the third consecutive game, Liberty allowed its opponent to shoot over 50 percent in the opening stanza. The Chanticleers hit 17-of-32 shots from the field (53.1 percent), while the Flames knocked down 14-of-29 attempts. Three-pointers played a factor in the first half, with Coastal Carolina connecting on 7-of-14 (50.0 percent) from outside the arc. The Flames were 0-for-3 from three-point land in the period.
Gradnigo paced the Chanticleers with 16 first half points, followed by Raffa and Moore, who each had nine. Minaya and Burrus posted 10 apiece for the Flames in the first 20 minutes.
Liberty stormed out the gate in the opening minutes of the second half, outscoring the Chanticleers, 6-2. Speaks made it a three-point ball game at 17:11, connecting on a fast break layup. Coastal Carolina responded with four unanswered points to up the lead to seven again, 49-42, at 14:44.
The Flames erased the deficit over the next 1:50 with seven unanswered points. During the run, Minaya knocked down a jumper and John Caleb Sanders hit on a three-pointer. Minaya capped off the run with another jumper, knotting the contest at 49. The Chanticleers refused to let Liberty gain the lead, countering with five straight points from Raffa to take a 54-49 lead at 11:21.
With Liberty down four, 58-54, at the 7:38 mark, Gradnigo upped the Chanticleer advantage to seven, with his fifth three-pointer of the contest. Following a John Caleb Sanders bucket, Coastal Carolina tacked on four more points, stretching the lead to nine, 65-56 at 5:23.
Liberty moved within six points with 4:54 left in the contest, thanks to an old fashion three-point play by Speaks, but could not climb any closer, as Coastal Carolina hung on for the 78-68 final.
Coastal Carolina concluded the contest hitting 27-of-54 shots (50.0 percent), including 8-of-18 (44.4 percent) from three-point range. Along with the Chanticleers efficiency behind the three-point arc, they also outscored the Flames in the paint, 34-24.
Despite Coastal Carolina entering the contest leading the conference in rebounding (43.4), Liberty managed to outrebound the Chanticleers, 37-35. Coastal Carolina came into the matchup averaging almost nine more boards than the Flames.
Raffa and Greenwood finished as Coastal Carolina's other two double-digit scorers, posting 17 and 11, respectively. Minaya closed out the afternoon with 14 tallies for Liberty. Burrus recorded his second double-double of the season, finishing with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Coastal Carolina travels to Charleston, S.C., to play the Citadel on Tuesday. Tipoff is slated for 7:05 p.m.
Liberty returns to the Vines Center on Tuesday to host Colonial Athletic Association member UNC Wilmington. The Flames are looking to avenge last season's 69-64 overtime loss to the Seahawks in Wilmington, N.C. on Nov. 16, 2010. Game time is set for 7 p.m.