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Shooting Touch Gives Liberty Third Straight Win

February 14, 2012
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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The Liberty men's basketball team continued its winning ways with sharpshooting, Tuesday night, defeating Commonwealth competitor VMI, 78-69.

The Flames led by as much as 17 in the first half, but the relentless Keydets crawled back in the second half to close within three during the final three minutes of the contest. Liberty shot over 55 percent for the third straight contest, finishing with 57.1 percent (32-of-56) from the field. Despite the success from the field, Liberty struggled at the free throw line with a season low 52.2 percent (12-of-23), allowing the Keydets to close the distance late.

With the victory, Liberty moves to 12-14 overall and 7-9 in the Big South, finishing the night tied with the Keydets (12-16, 7-9 BSC) in the conference standings.

David Minaya led the Flames with 20 points, posting a career-high 10 made field goals. The performance marks the redshirt senior's third 20-point performance of the year. Jesse Sanders posted 16 points, while leading Liberty with a game-high 13 rebounds and five assists. Antwan Burrus chipped in 15 points for the second-straight game. Tavares Speaks rounded out Liberty's double-digit scorers with 10 tallies.

Stan Okoye paced the Keydets offense with 21 points and 12 rebounds, while Ron Burks and Keith Gabriel had 13 and 12 markers, respectively.

Gabriel kick started the Keydets offense with a three-pointer to open the first half. Liberty tied the contest thanks to a Minaya jumper and a Burrus free throw. The game remained a one possession contest until the 14:54 mark, when Burrus connected on a layup to give the Flames a four-point lead. The bucket was part of an 8-0 run, which was capped off by a Tavares Speaks jumper. Michael Sparks halted the Flames momentum temporarily at 12:52, hitting a trey to make it 15-10.

Liberty went on another big run over the next 6:05, outscoring the Keydets, 10-1. During the span, the Flames received buckets from Jesse Sanders, Minaya, Burrus and Speaks. After the Keydets went 6:17 without a field goal, Stan Okoye ended the drought with a jump shot at 6:35. Despite the field goal the damage was done, as Liberty held a 27-13 advantage.

The Flames continued to maintain its cushion in the final minutes of the half, heading into the locker room with a 41-26 lead.

Shooting over 55 percent during its last two contests, Liberty continued the trend in the first half, shooting 61.3 percent (19-of-31) from the field. The Flames defense held the Keydets to 30.6 percent (11-of-36) from the field. Liberty controlled the paint, outscoring VMI, 22-8.

Minaya led all scorers at the half with 12 points on 6-for-9 shooting, followed by Burrus with eight tallies. Ron Burks paced the Keydets offense with seven points.

In the second half, the Keydets looked to close the distance, climbing within 10 points thanks to a Michael Sparks free throw at 16:03. Later, VMI made it a nine-point game, as Jordan Weethee connected on a three-pointer to make it, 49-40, at the 15:17 mark.

VMI continued to edge closer, outscoring the Flames, 13-8, over the next 7:20. After a Minaya jumper gave Liberty a nine-point edge, the Keydets chipped away at the bulge with baskets from Gabriel and Okoye. A tip-in by Okoye at 7:57 put the Keydets within four at 57-53.

Minaya continued to display a hot hand, knocking down another jumper with 5:47 left on the clock. Gabriel countered on the other end for VMI, sinking a three-pointer and fast break layup to make it a three-point game. Minaya prevented the Keydets from getting any closer for the time being, collecting his 10th field goal of the contest on a jump shot. The basket put Liberty ahead by five, 67-62, with 4:05 remaining.

With Liberty up by four points, VMI had a chance to make it interesting, holding the possession with 38 ticks left. The Flames were able to come up with a key defensive stop, as Speaks stole the ball from Okoye. The theft forced the Keydets to foul in the remaining seconds, ultimately leading to the 78-69 final.

With both teams set for Sears BracketBusters matchups, Saturday, VMI heads to Williamsburg, Va. for a contest with William & Mary at 1 p.m.

Liberty heads to Baltimore, Md., on Saturday for a contest against Morgan State. Tipoff is slated for 1 p.m.