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Liberty Earns Key Conference Win Over Coastal Carolina

February 23, 2012
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Liberty kept its hopes of claiming a top six seed for the Big South Championship alive on Thursday, edging Coastal Carolina, 61-57, inside the Vines Center.

The Flames victory over the Chanticleers snaps Coastal Carolina's five-game winning streak against Liberty. Prior to the Thursday's win, Liberty's last victory over the Chanticleers occurred on Feb. 16, 2009, when the Flames bested Coastal Carolina, 85-82. Liberty now leads the all-time series, 26-23.

After starting the season 0-6 in conference play, Liberty (13-17, 8-9 Big South) has won eight of its last 11 league matchups, including four straight contests. With the defeat, Coastal Carolina falls to 18-10 on the season and 11-6 in conference action.

David Minaya led the Flames with a game-high 18 points. Joel Vander Pol had a solid night, recording 13 points and six rebounds. The performance marks the 6-10 center's first double-digit scoring contest since recording a career-high 20 points against Campbell (Dec. 20) earlier in the season. Tavares Speaks rounded out Liberty's trio of double-digit scorers with 12 tallies, while Jesse Sanders had six points, nine rebounds and 11 assists.

Kierre Greenwood led the Chanticleers with 16 points, followed by Anthony Raffa (15) and Chris Gradnigo (11).

Entering the night averaging 49.0 percent from the field, Coastal Carolina was held to 35.7 (20-of-56) percent by the Liberty defense. The Chanticleers managed to find rhythm from behind the three-point arc, shooting 53.8 percent (7-of-13) from long range.

Liberty shot 47.2 percent (25-of-53) from the field, marking its fifth straight contest shooting over 45.0 percent. The Flames edged Coastal Carolina on the glass, 37-34. Liberty also outscored the Chanticleers in the paint (24-18), off turnovers (13-3) and off the bench (20-5).

Sam McLaurin put the Chanticleers on the board first with a layup. A three-point shootout between Minaya and Gradinigo ensued over the next 4:05. Minaya knocked down the first trey at 17:53 to put the Flames ahead, while Gradnigo responded on the other end 15 ticks later to give Coastal Carolina a two-point advantage. Minaya answered at the 15:37 mark with his second trey of the game, but Gradnigo again countered 11 seconds later with a trey to regain the early lead for Coastal Carolina at 8-6.

Liberty began to heat up from the field over the next 3:56, going on an 11-0 run. Antwan Burrus started the burst with a layup. After jumpers from Minaya and Speaks, Jesse Sanders knocked down his 15th trey of the season. Vander Pol christened the run with a tip-in at 10:29 to put the Flames ahead by nine points. Dexter Moore halted Liberty's momentum with a three-pointer, to make it a six-point game, 17-11, with 9:36 remaining.

Vander Pol continued to provide offense for the Flames, connecting on a dunk, courtesy of an alley-oop from Jesse Sanders, giving Liberty an eight-point advantage. Coastal Carolina continued to chip away at bulge with three-pointers by Raffa and Greenwood. The Greenwood trey knotted the contest, 23-23, at the 5:38 mark.

The Chanticleers regained the lead with a McLaurin free throw and held on to the advantage for the remainder of the half. John Caleb Sanders posted the last basket of the period, driving to the hoop and scoring a layup to put Liberty within a point of the Chanticleers at halftime, 29-28.

Liberty shot 41.4 percent in the first half, hitting 12-of-29 shots. The Chanticleers finished the period shooting 37.0 percent from the field overall (10-of-27). However, the visitors concluded the half on 62.5 percent shooting from three-point land, nailing 5-of-8 shots from behind the arc. Liberty outscored Coastal Carolina, 12-4, in the paint and capitalized on points off turnovers, 8-3.

Scoring eight of Liberty's first 10 points, Minaya led all scorers with 10 at the half, followed by Joel Vander Po, who had eight. Raffa paced the Chanticleers with seven points, while Gradnigo and Greenwood had six apiece.

The second half began with a back-and-forth battle, as the two squads traded baskets for the first four minutes. Vander Pol bucked the trend at 15:02, giving the Flames a three-point lead with a tip-in. Greenwood erased the cushion with a three-pointer, but Vander Pol answered on the other end with a traditional three-point play at 13:31, making it 39-36 in favor of the Flames.

Coastal Carolina tied the contest at 39 just over a minute later. With game knotted at 46 with 7:54 remaining, Liberty posted four straight points, creating a small cushion. After the Flames received buckets from Minaya and Speaks, Raffa cut it to a pair points with two made free throws. Liberty followed by  going on a 6-0 burst off,  Minaya and Speaks baskets to up it lead to eight points, 56-48, with 3:48 remaining.

The Chanticleers climbed within two points with 29 ticks left ,thanks to Gradnigo's third three-pointer of the night. With Carolina forced to foul late, Liberty made two free throws from the line to hang on for the 61-57 victory.

Coastal Carolina heads to Lexington, Va. to close out conference play, squaring off with VMI at 1 p.m.

Liberty concludes its regular season in the Vines Center on Saturday, playing host to Campbell at 7 p.m. The Flames clash with the Camels airs live on MASN.