Six weeks before the 2018 Big South Women's Basketball Championship title game is played at the Vines Center, Big South co-leader Liberty and preseason favorite Radford played a game with a distinct tournament feel on the same court. In the end, the Lady Flames withstood the Highlanders' second-half comeback to post a 61-56 victory, Sunday afternoon.
Liberty led by 13 points at halftime before Radford came back to tie the score twice in the second half. But the Highlanders could never get over the hump, missing two potential game-tying three-point attempts in the last 20 seconds before Nene Johnson grabbed a key defensive rebound and sealed the triumph with two victories.
The Lady Flames move to 12-8 overall and remain in a Big South first-place tie with High Point at 7-1 in conference play. Keyen Green (14 points), KK Barbour (12 points) and Ashtyn Baker (11 points) all reached double figures for Liberty, which has won three straight games overall, seven consecutive home games and seven straight home matchups with the Highlanders. The Lady Flames shot 48.1 percent (25-of-52) from the field, while enjoying sizable advantages in rebounds (37-23), points in the paint (32-22) and second-chance points (18-4).
Radford drops to 12-7 overall and 5-3 in the Big South despite 16 points (14 in the second half) from Jayda Worthy and 14 more from Destinee Walker. However, the Highlanders became the seventh straight opponent Liberty has limited to 60 points or fewer.
Walker went on a personal 6-0 run for Radford early in the game, giving the visitors a 10-6 lead on her three-pointer with 5:27 to play in the first quarter. Liberty then scored the period's final 10 points, beginning with back-to-back Baker hoops.
The Lady Flames led 16-10 at the end of a first quarter which saw Baker score six points and Liberty force six Radford turnovers.
Johnson's jumper opened the second-quarter scoring, wrapping up Liberty's overall run at 12-0 and lifting the home team's lead to eight (18-10). During the prolonged surge, the Lady Flames held Radford scoreless for 6:32 of action.
The Highlanders went 6-for-6 from the foul line in the second quarter, cutting the deficit to three points twice. Tatyana Crowder then scored four points and Bridgette Rettstatt and Lela Sellers hit back-to-back triples during a 12-2 Liberty run, boosting the Lady Flames' halftime lead to 13 (36-23).
Crowder led all players in both points (8) and rebounds (4) before the half. The Lady Flames made half (15-of-30) of their field goals during the opening half, while scoring 10 points off seven Radford turnovers and turning nine offensive boards into 14 second-chance tallies.
After being limited to two first-half points, the Highlanders' Worthy scored 11 in the third quarter, including seven during her team's 13-0 run. Janayla White's layup with 2:05 remaining in the quarter briefly tied the score at 42-42. Baker responded with four straight points for the Lady Flames, sending her team to the final period with a 46-42 edge.
Radford produced another deadlock at 46-46 just 40 seconds into the final period, thanks to a triple by Claudia Quevedo and a Worthy free throw.
Liberty then fashioned a 10-2 run over the next 5:51, capped off by a driving layup by Green which made the Lady Flames' lead 56-48 with 3:29 to play.
Liberty still led by seven (58-51) entering the final minute before Worthy's jumper and Walker's three-pointer trimmed the margin to 58-56 with 35 seconds left.
Baker split a pair of free throws, setting up a sequence where Worthy and Walker both missed triples prior to Johnson's crucial defensive rebound for the Lady Flames.
In the end, the matinee played out similarly to Radford's game at Liberty last season. That time (Feb. 7, 2017), the Highlanders erased a 17-point deficit before the Lady Flames hung on for a 49-48 decision.
Radford ended Sunday's game at 40 percent (20-of-50) from the floor but shot just 27.8 percent (5-of-18) in the fourth quarter following a scorching 66.7 percent (8-of-12) third quarter.
Green, who had averaged 25.0 ppg in her previous two outings, tallied a team-high 14 points in just 18 minutes due to foul trouble on Sunday.
Baker pulled down six rebounds one day before her 19th birthday, doubling the point guard's previous career high and sharing the team lead with Barbour and Crowder.
Crowder continued her recent surge, contributing eight points and a season-high six boards while playing a career-high 32 minutes off the bench.
Up Next Liberty will reach the halfway point of its 18-game Big South schedule on Tuesday with a visit to High Point (13-6, 7-1 Big South). Tipoff is scheduled at 7 p.m. inside the Millis Center for a game which will put the victor in sole possession of first place in the Big South standings.
The Lady Flames will also be seeking win No. 700 in program history, as Liberty will head to High Point with a 699-494 all-time record in 43 seasons of women's basketball.