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Blair, Brewington and Smith Shine In Loss At #3-Ranked Florida
Despite forcing the defending national champions to turn the ball over 18 times it wasn't enough as the Liberty Flames (6-8) fell to the third-ranked Florida Gators (13-2) on Tuesday night at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, 89-58.
The score remained close earlier as Anthony Smith hit a three-point basket from the corner to cut a Florida lead to two points, 9-7, with 16:01 remained in the opening period. But, the Gators went right down the court and answered with a three-point basket of their own by a wide open Taurean Green to make it 12-7 with 15:44 left in the half.
Larry Blair responded on the ensuing trip down the court by hitting a jumper to cut the lead to three points, 12-9, with 15:19 left in the half. However, that was as close as the Flames would be as the Gators pounded the ball down low the rest of the half, finishing the period on a 40-17 run to take a 52-26 advantage into the break.
The Flames came out strong in the second half as they remained relatively even on second half scoring as Liberty scored 20 out of the first 35 points in the half, capped by a Blair steal that transitioned into a powerful one-handed dunk by Dwight Brewington to make it 67-46 with 10:39 left in the game.
The Gators closed out the game on a 22-12 run to take home the 89-58 victory, giving Liberty their 19th-straigh road loss and seventh-straight loss overall.
Smith led all scorers with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including 2-of-3 from three point range. Smith quieted the Gator crowd with two spectacular dunks, both coming off transition and assists by Blair including an alley oop.
Blair had his three-game streak of 20 point performances against Top 25 teams snapped as he finished with 17 points on 7-of-19 shooting to go along with a season-high six steals. Blair's streak consisted of games against No. 10 N.C. State (22 points), No. 23 Maryland (30 points), and No. 7 Kentucky (26 points). Brewington rounded out the top scorers with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
Alex McLean scored only three points and grabbed one rebound while spending most of the game on the bench in foul trouble.
Four of the five Gator starters netted double figures led by Joakim Noah who scored a team-high 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting. Green and Corey Brewer each scored 14 points and Al Horford chipped in 12 points in the win.
The Flames won three statistical categories in the loss. Liberty forced Florida to turn the ball over 18 times and 15 of those were off of Flame steals. In addition to grabbing more steals, the Flames also shot better from the free throw line by a narrow margin, 56.3 percent to 50.0 percent.
The Flames shot 41.1 percent from the field on 23-of-56 shooting and the Gators barely missed hitting on 61.8 percent of their shots on 34-of-55 shooting. But, the difference in the game was the front court as Florida outrebounded the Flames by 27, 46-19.
Liberty continues its road schedule as they open up the Big South portion of the season on Saturday at UNC Asheville. Tip is set for 4:30 p.m.