If Tuesday evening's contest at the Vines Center was any indication of what the second round of Big South Conference play holds in store, Liberty will need to battle to retain the conference lead. Sadalia Ellis' 17 points and six assists helped the Lady Flames withstand a game effort by a UNC Asheville and record a 62-58 victory.
Ellis contributed three points and a pair of assists to Liberty's decisive 11-3 surge, which turned a precarious 51-50 advantage into a 62-53 cushion with just 37.1 seconds remaining. The Lady Flames' starting post duo of Katelyn Adams (four points, two rebounds) and Ashley Rininger (four points, two rebounds) played a key role during the run as well.
As a result, Liberty improves to 14-6 overall and 10-1 in Big South play, remaining one game ahead of second-place High Point. The Lady Flames shot 50 percent (25-of-50) from the field and hit seven triples on their way to their 50th all-time win over Asheville. Liberty has now won eight straight home games overall and eight consecutive home meetings with the Bulldogs.
Asheville falls to 5-15 on the season and 4-7 in league play despite 17 points, seven assists and five triples from Brittany Gwyn.
The two teams combined to make 12 of their first 14 field goal attempts to start the game, including five triples.
Neither team led by more than six points during a closely contested first half, which included five ties and seven lead changes.
Liberty broke the half's final tie with a long Jaymee Fisher-Davis triple, seven seconds before the intermission. The trifecta gave the Lady Flames a 35-32 advantage at halftime.
Liberty shot 50 percent (14-of-28) during the first 20 minutes, while Asheville connected at a 54.5 percent (12-of-22) clip, including 62.5 percent (5-of-8) from three-point range.
Both teams' starting point guards excelled in the first half, as Ellis totaled nine points and four assists for the Lady Flames and Gwyn contributed eight points and four assists for the Bulldogs.
Liberty took a pair of six-point leads early in the second half, including 47-41 at the 12:42 mark, on Simone Brown's layup off of a nice bounce pass from Katelyn Adams.
A long triple by Gwyn with 6:07 remaining punctuated a 9-4 Asheville run which trimmed its deficit to 51-50.
However, the Bulldogs would hit only one field goal over the next 5:56 as Liberty turned up the defensive pressure and started its aforementioned 11-3 run.
Key hoops during Liberty's 11-3 surge included an Ellis trifecta from deep in the right corner at 4:35 and a pair of baskets late in the shot clock. Adams swished a perimeter jumper with 2:23 remaining and Ellis found Rininger for a layup at the 1:13 mark.
Asheville got a layup from KJ Weaver and one last Gwyn three-pointer within the final 11.4 seconds, quickly cutting a nine-point deficit to four. But Ellis dribbled out the clock, enabling Liberty to reach double figures in Big South victories for the 16th straight year.
Liberty shot exactly 50 percent from the field during both halves, improving to 98-1 under Carey Green when making at least half of its field goals.
Asheville dropped to 37 percent (10-of-27) from the field after halftime, finishing the game at 44.9 percent (22-of-49). The Bulldogs, who shot a sizzling 56.3 percent (9-of-16) from beyond the three-point arc, became the first visiting Big South team to score 50 points at the Vines Center this season.
Liberty outrebounded its ninth consecutive opponent, 31-26, and enjoyed a slim 26-22 edge in points in the paint.
The Lady Flames finished with their second fewest turnovers of the season (13), only five of which came after halftime.
Ellis' 17 points set a season high and equaled her career high. The junior guard hit a season-best three triples.
Brown added 10 points, connecting on five of her six field goal attempts.
Adams' nine points and game-high eight rebounds put the redshirt junior over the 500 mark in both categories. She is the 26th Lady Flame ever to grab 500 career boards.
Mired in foul trouble for most of the game, Rininger tallied eight points, including four in the final 1:13.
Playing in her home state, Asheville freshman Bronaza Fitzgerald came off the bench for nine points and a team-high six caroms for the Bulldogs.
Liberty will play at High Point (13-7, 9-2 Big South) Saturday at 2 p.m. in a showdown between the top two teams in the Big South standings. The Lady Flames, who notched a 64-47 home win over the Panthers on Jan. 3, will attempt to wrap up their first regular-season sweep of High Point since 2010-11. High Point has won 15 consecutive home games at the Millis Center.