Catherine Kearney's double-double (17 points, career-high 14 rebounds) and a huge 55-22 rebounding advantage were key to No. 2 seed Liberty's 68-53 victory over No. 7 seed Charleston Southern in the Big South Women's Basketball Championship quarterfinals, Friday evening at Kimmel Arena.
With the win, Liberty (19-11) advances to the semifinal round for the 20th consecutive season. The Lady Flames will meet the winner between No. 3 seed Radford and No. 6 seed High Point Saturday at 4 p.m., with the contest airing on ESPN3.
Charleston Southern's season ends at 14-17, as the Buccaneers were held to 32 percent (16-of-50) shooting from the field. Liberty is now 7-0 all-time against CSU in the Big South Women's Basketball Championship, and its third win over the Buccaneers this season marked the Lady Flames' 12th straight victory in the head-to-head series.
Liberty held Charleston Southern without a made field goal for the first 9:34 of the game, opening up a 15-4 lead to begin the contest. Kearney scored seven first-quarter points for the Lady Flames, who took a 15-8 advantage at the end of the opening period. CSU shot just 11.1 percent (1-of-9) from the field during the first 10 minutes.
Alyssa Mann scored five straight points, closing out an 11-0 run for the Buccaneers. Her pair of free throws tied the score at 15-15 with 6:24 remaining in the second quarter. Shortly thereafter, Ashley Rininger tallied a pair of hoops during a 10-2 Liberty surge. Her layup at the 1:30 mark gave the Lady Flames a 27-19 advantage, and Liberty took a 27-21 lead into the intermission.
Both teams struggled shooting from the field during the first 20 minutes, with Liberty making 30 percent (9-of-30) of its tries and CSU connecting at a 25 percent (5-of-20) clip. The Lady Flames outrebounded the Buccaneers before halftime, 23-15, including 11 offensive boards.
After being held without a made three-pointer in the first half, Liberty got triples on back-to-back possessions from Brooke Alexander and Sadalia Ellis, bolstering its lead to 35-24 with 6:19 to play in the third quarter. Mickayla Sanders came off the bench to score seven points in 2:00, and the Lady Flames' advantage eventually reached 19 points (52-33). CSU then cut it to 52-36 with a buzzer-beating triple by Shauntavia Dobson. For the quarter, Liberty outscored the Buccaneers, 25-15.
Ellis' two free throws with 5:50 remaining in the contest gave Liberty its largest lead of the night at 60-37. Charleston Southern outscored the Lady Flames, 16-8, the rest of the way, but it was too little, too late.
Liberty finished at 35.7 percent (20-of-56) from the field to Charleston Southern's 32 percent (16-of-50).
The Lady Flames spent a lot of time at the foul line, shooting 73.5 percent while setting season highs for free throws made (25) and attempted (34).
Liberty's +33 rebound margin established a season high, and the Lady Flames' 24 offensive boards led to 18 second-chance points. After halftime, Liberty pulled down 32 rebounds to Charleston Southern's seven.
All 15 Lady Flames in uniform saw playing time, and Liberty totaled 24 bench points.
Kearney's double-double was her fifth of the season and the eighth of her career. Fellow senior Ellis chipped in 11 points for the Lady Flames.
KK Barbour tied her career high of seven points and added six boards, while Rininger (six points, nine rebounds) and Katelyn Adams (five points, six rebounds) also contributed to Liberty's dominance of the paint.
Sanders scored all seven of her points during the third quarter, her first tallies since Feb. 20.
Mann (13 points) and Dobson (11 points) both scored in double digits for the Buccaneers.