The Liberty men's basketball team stepped into Gardner-Webb's Paul Porter Arena looking for a road win. Despite being within four points of the Runnin' Bulldogs in the second half, the home team held off the Flames in the final minutes for the 77-67 decision.
Theo Johnson led Liberty (7-22, 1-15 Big South) with 15 points, followed by David Andoh, who had 11. Andrew Smith had a near double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds. Freshman Jordan Dembley recorded a career-high 10 points. Junior point guard Joe Retic returned to action after missing the last 12 games due to a fractured foot. Retic played 14 minutes, finishing with two points.
Gardner-Webb (17-12, 9-7 Big South) leading scorer Jerome Hill paced the Runnin' Bulldogs with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Harold McBride chipped in 16 tallies, followed by Adonis Burbage (11), Jarvis Davis (11) and Tyrell Nelson (10).
Liberty outshot Gardner-Webb from the field, hitting 26-of-59 attempts (44.1 percent). The Runnin' Bulldogs closed out the night with 43.1 percent shooting (22-of-51), but made up for it at the foul line. Gardner-Webb went 26-of-35 (74.3 percent) from the charity stripe, compared to the Flames, who went 10-of-17 (58.8 percent).
With the contest tied at six early, Gardner-Webb proceeded to go on an 11-0 run. Nelson capped the burst with a layup to give the home team a 17-6 lead at 14:03.
Retic checked in at the 15:06 mark and posted his first basket at 12:48. The Runnin' Bulldogs led by 12 with 11:26 on the clock, but the Flames quickly cut the deficit. A James Johnson layup and an A.C. Reid three-pointer made it a seven-point game 40 ticks later, 20-13.
Still down by seven after a Smith tip-in with under seven minutes left in the period, Gardner-Webb reversed the momentum with five unanswered points. After a Davis three-pointer, Nelson connected on another layup to regain a 12-point lead for the Runnin' Bulldogs, 32-20.
Liberty climbed within in eight in the closing minutes, but a McBride trey gave Gardner-Webb a 35-24 halftime lead.
Gardner-Webb shot 39.3 percent (11-of-28) from the field in the first half, compared to 32.4 percent (11-of-34) for the Flames. Liberty edged the Runnin' Bulldogs in the paint, 16-12, but Gardner-Webb capitalized at the charity stripe, where they went 10-of-13 (76. 9 percent). The Flames only made one trip to the foul line in the opening stanza, missing both attempts.
Davis paced Gardner-Webb with nine tallies at the half. Smith and Andoh each led Liberty with six.
The Flames cut at the deficit in the second half thanks to a 12-4 run. Liberty received baskets from Theo and James Johnson, Dembley and Andoh during the surge. A traditional three-point play by Andoh at 14:18 put the Flames within four, 44-40.
Gardner-Webb responded with a 12-4 burst of its own over the next 5:35. A tip-in by Hill put the Runnin' Bulldogs up by 12 at the 8:43 mark, 56-44.
Liberty got within nine points after a dunk by Smith with 7:42 remaining, but were unable to pull any closer. The Runnin' Bulldogs led by as much as 16 with 48 seconds left, but three-pointers by Reid and Dembley in the closing seconds helped lead to the 77-67 final.
Liberty returns to the Vines Center on Thursday, hosting fellow Commonwealth competitor Radford. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m., with the contest broadcasting live on the Liberty Flames Sports Network, MASN HD, ESPN3 and the Big South Network.