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Liberty Controls Paint in 68-63 Victory

November 17, 2012
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Jasmine Gardner posted her second career double-double during Saturday's 68-63 victory over Sacred Heart, finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
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In a battle between 2012 NCAA Tournament qualifiers, Liberty used a sizable advantage around the basket to defeat Sacred Heart, 68-63, in a Preseason WNIT consolation round contest Saturday evening at the Vines Center.

Led by double-doubles from Jasmine Gardner (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Devon Brown (12 points, 12 rebounds), the Lady Flames outrebounded their guests by 35 boards on the night, 62-27. Liberty also racked up 34 points in the paint and scored 21 second-chance points off of 26 offensive rebounds.

The Lady Flames wrap up their most successful Preseason WNIT appearance in program history at 2-1. Meanwhile, the Pioneers fall to 1-2, despite a Vines Center record-tying 13 assists by point guard Ericka Norman.

Liberty scored the game's first four points and led for the first 11 minutes of the game. Gabrielle Washington gave Sacred Heart its first advantage, 15-14, on a jump shot 8:55 before halftime.

The remainder of the opening half featured two ties and four lead changes, before Morgan Merriman's short-range jumper with 10 seconds left gave the visitors a 27-25 edge at the intermission.

Both teams struggled shooting the ball during the first 20 minutes of play, with the Lady Flames hitting 33.3 percent (11-of-33) of their field goals and the Pioneers shooting 30.3 percent (10-of-33). Liberty owned a 30-17 rebounding cushion, while Sacred Heart converted 13 Liberty turnovers into 13 points.

Brown topped the Lady Flames in both points (8) and rebounds (8) during the first half. Sacred Heart's Merriman paced all players with 10 first-half points.

Kiley Evans, Sacred Heart's leading scorer on the season prior to Saturday, scored her lone two points of the evening 55 seconds into the second half. That put the red-clad Pioneers in front, 29-25. That proved to be Sacred Heart's largest lead of the game.

Back-to-back three-pointers by Reagan Miller and Brittany Campbell reclaimed the edge for Liberty at 31-29, with 17:18 showing on the second-half clock.

The lead changed hands three times in the next four minutes, including after two Alissa Tarsi free throws at 13:31 provided Sacred Heart a 40-39 edge.

Liberty then took the lead for good with an 11-2 burst highlighted by old-fashioned three-point plays from Gardner and Tolu Omotola. An Omotola layup with 9:06 to play made the score 50-42 in favor of the Lady Flames.

The Liberty advantage still stood at eight points (55-47), before Gardner took over for the Lady Flames. The junior center scored all of Liberty's points during an 8-1 surge which bolstered the home team's cushion to 15 points. Gardner's layup at 2:56 gave the Lady Flames a seemingly insurmountable 63-48 lead.

Sacred Heart then made a furious run at the Lady Flames, thanks in large part to an aggressive full-court defense. Lerae Ettienne successfully completed a three-point play with 41 seconds remaining on the clock, closing out a 13-2 surge and shaving her team's deficit to 65-61.

However, Liberty was able to hang on for its 10th straight home victory, as Brown and Sadalia Ellis combined to make three of four free throws down the stretch.

The Lady Flames ended up shooting 39 percent (23-of-59) from the floor and 67.9 percent (19-of-28) from the free throw line. Sacred Heart's final figures were 32.3 percent (21-of-65) field goal shooting and 72.7 percent (16-of-22) free throw accuracy.

Despite being dominated in rebounds, points in the paint and second-chance points, the Pioneers stayed in the game by scoring 32 points off of Liberty's 29 turnovers.

Gardner scored 14 of her team-high 18 points after halftime, falling just one point shy of her career high. Her double-double was the second of her career.

Meanwhile, Brown notched her 15th career double-double, tying Cheri Yates for seventh place on Liberty's all-time list. Brown's 12 rebounds led all players.

Omotola reached double figures for the second straight game, tallying 14 points. Katelyn Adams chipped in six points and a matching number of rebounds off the bench, while Emily Frazier led the Lady Flames with four assists.

Washington scored 16 of her game-leading 22 points after halftime for Sacred Heart. She was joined in double digits by Blair Koniszewski (14 points) and Merriman (10).

Norman had a strong all-around performance for the Pioneers, complementing her 13 assists with eight points, four rebounds and five steals. She tied her own Vines Center single-game assist record, set during Friday's win over Sam Houston State.

Liberty will now embark upon a challenging Texas road trip, which will see the Lady Flames play against the last two NCAA Division I national champions, Texas A&M and Baylor. Liberty will begin the Lone Star State swing Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern with a matchup at No. 13/16 Texas A&M.