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Sharp Second Half Shooting Moves Flames Past Runnin' Bulldogs

February 2, 2012
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Sophomore guard John Caleb Sanders hit four three-pointers, Thursday, to help Liberty defeat Gardner-Webb, 63-58.
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Playing its first conference game this season in front of the Liberty student body, the men's basketball team did not disappoint, Thursday night, defeating Gardner-Webb, 63-58.

After shooting 32.1 percent from the field in the first half, Liberty caught fire in the second half, hitting 13-of-23 shots (56.5 percent) to pull away for the victory.

The win inside the Vines Center moves the Flames to 9-15 on the year and 4-8 in Big South play. The Runnin' Bulldogs fall to 10-14 overall and 5-7 in conference action. Liberty head coach Dale Layer improves his personal record against Gardner-Webb to 7-1 all-time. The Flames now lead the all-time series, 7-3.

Despite beginning the contest 0-for-8 from the field, David Minaya knocked down his next six shots and hit four free throws to lead the Flames with 16 points. John Caleb Sanders hit four three-pointers to chip in 12 points, while older brother Jesse flirted with another triple-double, posting 12 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

Tashan Newsome led Gardner-Webb with a game-high 21 points.

After two minutes of scoreless action, Tomasz Gielo put Liberty on the board first with a layup. Jason Dawson knotted the contest with a jumper, but Gielo answered on the other end with a three-point basket to put Liberty up by three. Following a layup by Gardner-Webb's Mike Byron, Tavares Speaks hit another trey for the Flames, giving Liberty a four-point advantage at 15:24.

Gardner-Webb proceeded to go on a 6-0 run over the next 2:50 to hold a two-point edge. After a Runnin' Bulldog turnover at 11:54, the Flames displayed poise on the offensive glass, picking up four offensive rebounds before John Caleb Sanders sank a three-pointer off a pass by Jesse Sanders, who had corralled the fourth offensive carom of the sequence. The trey by the younger Sanders regained the lead for the Flames. Jesse Sanders added to his sibling's bucket at the 10:12 mark with a layup, making it 13-10 in Liberty's favor.

The Runnin' Bulldogs used another 6-0 run to go up by three, following a Byron dunk at 8:54. After Burrus ended the run with a free throw, Speaks netted back-to-back jumpers to put the Flames back up by two. Stefon Johnson tied the contest for the fourth time, hitting a jumper at 5:43. Nearly a minute later, John Caleb Sanders once again gave the Flames the lead, knocking down his second three-pointer of the game to make it 21-18.

With the contest tied at 22, John Caleb Sanders jacked up a third trey with 1:12 to go, sending the Flames into the locker room at halftime with a 25-22 lead.

Liberty shot 32.1 percent (9-of-28) from the field in the first half. However, the Flames managed to hit 5-of-11 shots from downtown, finishing the opening stanza with 45.5 percent shooting from three-point range. The Runnin' Bulldogs closed out the first half on 37.0 percent shooting (10-of-27), but went 0-for-7 from the three-point arc.

John Caleb Sanders' trio of treys made him the game's scoring leader at halftime with nine points, followed by Speaks with seven. Johnson led the Runnin' Bulldogs with six tallies.

Both teams got off to a slow start in the second half. Gardner-Webb took the lead, 28-27, thanks to an authoritative fast break dunk by Newsome. Minaya put the Flames back up by one with a pair of free throws, but the Runnin' Bulldogs posted five unanswered points with a Newsome jumper and a Max Landis three-pointer. Minaya answered with back-to-back layups from underneath the basket to knot the game at 33, with 12:52 remaining in the contest,

The Flames began to come alive over the next 6:08, outscoring the Runnin' Bulldogs, 14-7 during the span. Liberty received buckets from six different Flames, putting together a string of six straight points without a miss. With Liberty holding a 10-point lead, Newsome ended a 5:42 drought without a field goal, knocking down a three-pointer at 6:44 to make it 47-40.

The Flames continued to control the offensive tempo, taking an 11-point lead, its largest of the contest with 4:33 left, thanks to a Minaya layup off Jesse Sanders' eighth assist of the evening. With Liberty up by nine with 1:44 remaining, Gardner-Webb crept back into the contest over the next 1:07, outscoring the Flames 8-2. The Runnin' Bulldogs managed to make it a three-point game with a Newsome jumper, but were forced to foul in the remaining seconds, resulting in the 63-58 final.

Liberty shot 56.5 percent (13-of-23) in the second half to finish with 43.1 percent (22-of-51) for the contest. Gardner-Webb shot 40.0 percent (24-of-60) for the game. The Runnin' Bulldogs controlled the paint, 26-16, and edged the Flames in rebounding, 34-33. The Flames committed 10 turnovers compared to Gardner-Webb's 11, outpointing the visitors off miscues, 13-8.

Gardner-Webb remains on the road, Saturday, taking on High Point at 7 p.m.

Liberty returns to the Vines Center to host conference leader UNC Asheville, Saturday, at 7p.m. The contest will be aired live on the Liberty Channel, ESPN3.com, ESPN FullCourt and the Big South Network. The game will also be taped delayed on MASN, beginning at 9 p.m.