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Three-pointers Move VMI Past Liberty, Tuesday
Squaring off with the nation's No. 3 offense on Tuesday night, the Liberty men's basketball team stepped into Cameron Hall to take on VMI. Unfortunately for the Flames, the Keydets displayed their offensive proficiency on their home court, taking the contest 71-57.
With the defeat, Liberty falls to 5-13 on the year and 0-6 in Big South action. VMI moves to 8-9 overall and 3-4 in league play. The victory allows the Keydets to even the all-time series between the two programs at 13-13.
Stan Okoye led the Keydets with 18 points, followed by Jordan Weethee with 12. Antwan Burrus paced Liberty with 10 points, nine rebounds and four assists, while John Caleb Sanders finished with nine tallies off the bench. David Minaya posted eight points, reaching the 600-point mark for his Liberty career. The redshirt senior guard now has 607 career tallies.
Both offenses started off slow during the opening minutes. After nearly two minutes of scoreless action, Burrus put the Flames on the board first with a layup. After a Keith Gabriel jumper on the opposite end knotted the contest, Burrus put the Flames back ahead with another layup.
The three-pointers began to fly at 16:13, as Rodney Glasgow nailed a jumper to put the Keydets up by one. Minaya regained the lead for the Flames nearly a minute later with a jumper. VMI went back on top thanks to another three ball by Gabriel, taking an 8-6 edge at 15:01.
The Keydets took a four-point lead, 12-8, with 13:11 remaining in the half, but the Flames answered with a quartet of tallies to tie the game. VMI began to let loose from long range again, starting with a Michael Sparks trey. Sparks wasn't done, sinking another shot from three-point land 1:03 later to increase the Keydets lead to six.
Andrew Smith came off the bench for Liberty, cutting the deficit to four with a thunderous dunk. Ron Burks countered the slam on the other end with VMI's fifth three-pointer of the game, giving the home team a 23-16 lead at 9:58.
Liberty closed the gap to four, 24-20, just under the six minute mark. Burks once again came through for the Keydets, hitting his second three-pointer of the night. Weethee followed up the shot with a jumper in the paint to increase VMI's lead to nine. Minaya ended a 3:20 scoreless drought for Liberty, sinking a layup at 2:37.
Twenty five ticks later, Burrus knocked down an inside jumper to put the Flames within five, 29-24. On the opposite end, Okoye hit a jump shot to regain a seven-point lead for the home team. Liberty garnered the final possession before the period's conclusion but was unable to climb any closer before the buzzer, allowing VMI to carry a 31-24 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
Liberty closed out the half shooting 40.7 percent from the field, hitting 11-of-27 shots. VMI finished the period with 37.5 percent shooting (12-of-32). The Flames held the advantage in the paint, 18-12, but VMI's six three-pointers gave the Keydets the edge on the perimeter. The home team took 19 shots from behind the three-point arc in the period, while Liberty did not attempt a trey during the opening stanza. Fouls were also at a minimum, with each team committing four.
Sparks paced the Keydet offense at halftime with eight points. Liberty's big men led the way during the first half, as Burrus and Joel Vander Pol had six points, apiece.
In the second half, Burrus picked up where he left off, putting the Flames on the board first with a layup to shrink the gap to five. However, the highly touted offense began to get hot, posting four straight points to increase its cushion to nine. After a jumper by Speaks, Burks made it a double-digit ball game with a three-pointer at 17:40.
Gabriel followed up with a jumper to give VMI a 12-point lead, but Minaya cut it back to 10 with a layup on the other end. The Keydets responded with four unanswered points by Okoye and Weethee to go up by 14, 44-30, with 15:51 remaining.
Three-pointers continued to be a factor for the Keydets offense. Weethee gave VMI a 15-point lead with an outside jumper at 13:45. With less than 11:30 to go, Sparks nailed another trey to make it an 18-point ball game. Following a Jesse Sanders' free throw, the Keydets put up four tallies to enlarge its cushion to 21, 58-37, with 9:20 left on the clock.
With VMI still holding a 21-point lead at the 8:41 mark, Liberty began to dwindle down the deficit, scoring seven of the game's next eight points during a three-minute span. The VMI offense prevented the Flames from climbing any closer, countering four unanswered points to up the lead back to 19, 65-46.
Following a jumper by John Caleb Sanders, the Keydets posted four more points to regain its 21-point advantage, making it 69-48 at 3:07.
Liberty managed to cut it to 14 down the stretch, but could not get any closer en route to the 71-57 final.
The Flames shot 37.7 percent (23-of-61) for the contest, finishing under 40 percent for the first time since Nov. 26. The Keydets shot 55.2 percent (16-of-29) in the second half to close out the night 45.9 percent (28-of-61) shooting from the floor.
Liberty edged the Keydets in the paint, 36-34, but managed just two made three-pointers on the night compared to nine for VMI. The Flames also capitalized on second chance points, outscoring VMI, 16-8. However, the Keydets bench came up big with 43 points. Liberty's reserves posted 22 points on the night.
Liberty returns to the Vines Center on Thursday to host Radford. Game time is slated for 7 p.m. with the contest airing live on the Liberty Channel and MASN.
VMI awaits the Highlanders for a Saturday tilt. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.