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Liberty Holds Off Radford, Thursday

January 12, 2012
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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The Liberty men's basketball team picked up its first Big South win this season, defeating the Radford Highlanders, 69-64, Thursday night in the Vines Center.

The win snaps a five-game losing skid for the Flames, moving them to 6-13 on the year and 1-6 in Big South play. Radford falls to 3-15 overall and 0-6 in conference action. The Highlanders start 0-6 in league play for the first time in program history.

Jesse Sanders paced the Flames with 17 points and five assists, while also chipping eight rebounds. David Minaya finished with 14 points and a career-high 11 rebounds for his first double-double at Liberty.

With Minaya surpassing the 600-point mark for his career on Tuesday, Antwan Burrus becomes the second player to do so in as many games, finishing with five points to give him 603 career points. Joel Vander Pol rounded out the Flames double-digit scorers, posting 10 points and seven rebounds.

Jareal Smith led the Highlanders with 19 tallies, followed by R.J. Price, who netted Radford's final 10 points in the last two minutes.

Radford came out firing on all cylinders in the early minutes of the contest. With the game tied at two, Jareal Smith nailed a trey to give the Highlanders the three-point edge at 17:49. Thirty ticks later, Jareal Smith swished another three ball to extend Radford's advantage to six.

After a layup from Tomasz Gielo, Radford received four straight points from Javonte Green to increase its bulge to eight. Minaya answered with a layup at the other end to cut the deficit to six, but Jareal Smith countered with another three-pointer to put Radford ahead, 15-6, at 14:38.

Liberty took advantage of a six-minute span during which Radford managed one field goal, allowing the Flames to outscore the Highlanders, 11-2. Burrus knotted the game at the 8:49 mark, capitalizing on a traditional three-point play. Green broke up a 3:45 scoring drought for Radford 15 seconds later, laying it in to give the Highlanders a 19-17 edge at 8:34.

The Flames remained within one possession of the Highlanders until the 5:40 mark when Smith hit his fourth straight three-pointer of the game. Blake Smith followed up 21 seconds later with a three-pointer of his own to enlarge the lead to seven. Liberty responded with an 8-0 burst to take the lead with 2:54 left in the period. The Flames received buckets from Jesse Sanders, Tavares Speaks, Vander Pol and Minaya during the span. Minaya gave Liberty the edge with two free throws. Jareal Smith then answered with a made free throw on the other end to knot the game, 29-29, at 2:04.

Minaya allowed Liberty to briefly regained the lead with a layup, but a R.J. Price three-pointer and a Lukas Winegarner layup gave Radford a 34-31 lead at halftime.

The Highlanders finished the first half with 46.4 percent shooting (13-of-28) from the floor, while holding Liberty to 31.0 percent mark (9-of-29). Jareal Smith went 5-of-7 from behind the three-point arc, concluding the opening stanza with 15 points. Vander Pol paced the Flames with seven points and six rebounds during the opening 20 minutes of play.

Both teams were even in the paint (14-14) and on points off turnovers (7-7) at the end of the first half. The Highlanders outscored the Flames, 18-0, from behind the arc, but Liberty capitalized at the free throw line, hitting 13-of-15 shots compared to 2-for-5 for Radford.

A slow start for each squad highlighted the beginning of the second half. The Highlanders held the lead until the 12:29 mark. Jesse Sanders stripped the ball from Price at midcourt and quickly lobbed it to Speaks, who scored with the layup to tie the game at 39. Jesse Sanders gave the Flames the lead with a layup of his own, but a Daniel Mitchell three-pointer put Radford on top at 11:14, 42-41.

Minaya put Liberty back on top for good with two free throws at 10:38. The Flames began to pull away during the ensuing minutes. A Vander Pol free throw gave Liberty a six-point cushion with 8:27 left on the clock. Radford cut it to three with a three-pointer at the 8:00 mark, but the Flames began to create distance once again, outpointing the Highlanders, 7-2, during the next 90-plus seconds. A John Caleb Sanders trey ignited the Vines Center crowd with 6:13 left, giving Liberty a 57-49 advantage.

With the Flames holding a 62-52 lead entering the final three minutes, the Highlanders sliced their deficit in half with a pair of Blake Smith free throws and a Price three-pointer. Two Jesse Sanders free throws put Liberty up by seven, but Radford answered with five straight points from Price to climb within two with 42 ticks left.

The contest became a game of free throws during the final seconds. With the Highlanders forced to foul, Jesse Sanders knocked down both charity stripe shots to put Liberty up by four. A Price layup with three seconds to go made it a two-point game, but the Flames hung, hitting 3-of-4 free throws en route to the 69-64 win.

Liberty turned the tables during the second half, holding Radford to 30.0 percent (9-of-30) from the field, while shooting 43.5 percent (10-of-23). The Flames finished the contest with 36.5 percent shooting (19-of-52). Radford shot 37.9 percent (22-of-58), including 42.3 percent (11-of-26) from three-point land. The Highlanders outscored the Flames from long distance, 33-3.

Liberty grabbed a season-high 47 boards, while holding Radford to 31 caroms, garnering the largest rebound margin (16) of the year for the Flames.

Radford heads to VMI on Saturday to square off with the Keydets at 7 p.m.

Liberty remains in the Vines Center on Saturday to host Winthrop. Game time is slated for 7 p.m.