The Liberty men's basketball team nearly ended a seven-game skid inside Princeton's Jadwin Gym, Thursday night. Despite Liberty (3-9) keeping it close the entire contest, the Tigers (6-2) used a late surge to hold off the Flames, 77-72.
Sophomore center Evan Maxwell paced Liberty with 22 points, marking his third 20-point performance of the season. The 6-10 big man entered the night second in the country in field goal percentage (.727) and concluded the contest going 9-of-13 from the field.
Redshirt sophomore guard John Dawson received the starting nod in his Liberty debut and did not disappoint, recording 15 points and four assists. Dawson missed the first 11 games due to the NCAA transfer rule after transferring from Marquette midway through the 2014-15 campaign. He capped his scoring on the night with a three-pointer to pull the Flames within three with 17 ticks left.
Freshman guard Lovell Cabbil rounded out Liberty's double-digit scorers, finishing with 11 tallies.
Henry Caruso led Princeton with a game-high 29 points, followed by Pete Miller, who had 12.
The Flames shot 53.8 percent (28-of-52) in the contest, their second best shooting performance of the season. Princeton finished the night shooting 50.0 percent (23-of-56). Liberty outscored the Tigers in the paint (38-34) and from three-point land (24-9). However, Princeton capitalized from the free throw line (28-8) and off turnovers (19-0).
Dawson wasted little time making his mark, knocking down a jumper in the opening 47 seconds of the contest. Less than two minutes later, the Clovis, N.M., native displayed his long range game nearly two minutes later, draining a three-pointer. Following a Cabbil trifecta, Dawson connected on a layup to give the Flames a 12-9 lead at 15:17.
With the contest tied at 15, an A.C. Reid trey allowed the Flames to reclaim the lead. Following two Princeton free throws, Ezra Talbert joined the three-point party, giving Liberty a 21-17 advantage at 7:55.
Princeton took the lead on a Caruso layup at 2:42, kick starting a 7-0 run for the Tigers. Caruso later capped the burst with a three-pointer. Maxwell cut into the seven-point lead with a traditional three-point play, making it 38-34 in favor of Princeton at halftime.
Caruso paced the Princeton offense in the first half with 17 points, while Maxwell led Liberty with eight tallies.
Both teams shot 52.0 percent in the opening period, sinking 13-of-25 shots. The Tigers held the edge in the paint, 18-14, but the Flames outscored Princeton behind the three-point arc, 15-6.
Princeton jumped out to an eight-point lead in the second period. Liberty answered with an 11-2 burst to reclaim the lead. Cabbil started the burst with a three-pointer, followed by two buckets from Maxwell and another by redshirt sophomore Ryan Kemrite. Dawson sealed the run with a layup, giving the Flames a one-point advantage. After six unanswered points from the Tigers, Maxwell put on a show, scoring five straight points. Maxwell's put back dunk with 10:39 remaining knotted the contest at 52.
With the contest still tied with under nine minutes to play, Princeton went on an 8-1 run to lead 64-57 with 5:09 left. Liberty was able to climb within three thanks to Dawson's three-point bucket, but could not get over the hump en route to the 77-72 final.
Liberty heads to Brooklyn, N.Y. for a matchup with St. Francis Brooklyn on Sunday. Game time is slated for 4 p.m.