Trailing High Point by 17 points midway through the third quarter of Saturday afternoon's regular-season finale at the Vines Center, Liberty displayed the resolve of a champion. The Lady Flames outscored the Panthers, 29-5, over the game's final 13:53 to pull out a 57-49 Senior Day triumph and wrap up the outright Big South Conference regular-season championship.
Fittingly, on a day when she and classmate Sheana Vega were recognized prior to tipoff, Nene Johnson scored four straight points during a 22-3 run. Her shot clock buzzer-beating jumper with 6:20 remaining put Liberty on top for good, 48-47. The Lady Flames' defense did the rest, holding the high-powered High Point offense to four points in the fourth quarter.
Liberty improves to 21-9 overall and 16-2 in the Big South with its fifth straight win and its 12th consecutive home victory. Post players KK Barbour (15 points), Keyen Green (12 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 steals) and Ola Makurat (10 points, season-high 11 rebounds) all played key roles as the Lady Flames collected their 16th Big South regular-season championship trophy but their first since 2014-15.
High Point's third straight setback drops the Panthers' record to 16-13 overall and 10-8 in Big South play. Shea Morgan finished with 13 points and six rebounds for High Point, but the Panthers shot just 25 percent (6-of-24) after halftime, including 0-of-6 from beyond the arc.
Liberty took an early 6-0 lead before High Point controlled the remainder of the half. The Panthers closed the stanza with a 9-0 run, taking a 20-13 advantage after 10 minutes of play. Morgan scored eight first-quarter points for the Panthers, who shot 66.7 percent (8-of-12) from the field.
The Lady Flames managed only four points in the second quarter on 2-of-17 shooting. Meanwhile, High Point was able to build its advantage to 32-17 by finishing off the half on a 6-0 run.
High Point shot 45.8 percent (11-of-24) in the first half, scoring 16 points in the paint. The Panthers also hit all nine of their free throw attempts. Liberty connected on just 25 percent (7-of-28) of its first-half field goal tries, including just 10 percent (1-of-10) from beyond the three-point arc.
The Panthers were led by Morgan (10 points, 5 rebounds) in the opening half.
High Point took a pair of 17-point leads in the third quarter, including at 42-25 on Lindsey Edwards' layup at the 5:41 mark. Makurat then scored 10 points during the Lady Flames' 14-1 run to finish off the period. As a result, High Point's lead was just three (45-42) through three quarters of play.
Liberty scored eight of the fourth quarter's first 10 points, extending its overall run to 22-3. Johnson's aforementioned jumper and a Barbour hoop off a Johnson assist ended the surge with Liberty owning a 50-47 lead and 5:44 remaining on the fourth-quarter clock.
Olivia VanSlooten's baseline jumper on High Point's next possession trimmed the margin to a single point (50-49). But that turned out to be the Panthers' final hoop of the night, as the visitors went scoreless for the final 5:18.
Although the game marked the sixth time Liberty has won after trailing at halftime this year, it was the first time since Jan. 16, 2014 at Winthrop that the Lady Flames have turned a 15-point deficit into a victory.
Defense and rebounding fueled Liberty's second-half comeback, as the Lady Flames held High Point to 25 percent shooting and won the rebounding battle, 22-10, during the final 20 minutes. Liberty finished the game with a 41-26 rebounding advantage, converting 13 offensive boards into a dozen second-chance points.
At the offensive end, Liberty made 50 percent (12-of-24) of its second-half field goals, including 50 percent (5-of-10) from three-point range. The Lady Flames also connected on 11-of-12 second-half free throws for 91.7 percent.
For the game, both teams ended up with about the same field goal percentage, as Liberty shot 36.5 percent (19-of-52) and High Point checked in at 35.4 percent (17-of-48). The Lady Flames fared better from three-point distance, going 30 percent (6-of-20) to High Point's 10 percent (1-of-10).
Liberty ended up 81.3 percent (13-of-16) from the charity stripe, while High Point shot 93.3 percent (14-of-15).
Barbour (13 second-half points), Makurat (10 second-half points) and Green (eight second-half points) combined for 31 of the Lady Flames' 40 points after the intermission.
Makurat's double-double off the bench was her second of the season and the third of the sophomore's career. Meanwhile, classmate Green continued her strong play against the Panthers, as she is now averaging 19.8 ppg and 10.3 rpg for her career versus High Point.
Liberty also got strong play from its pair of point guards, with Ashtyn Baker tallying nine points and Johnson adding seven points and a team-high four assists.
Lindsey Edwards joined Morgan in double digits for High Point with 10 points. However, leading scorer Emma Bockrath was held to seven points on 3-of-13 shooting on the afternoon.
Up Next Liberty will play host to the Big South Women's Basketball Championship at the Vines Center for the second straight year, March 8-11.
The Lady Flames will open tournament play on Friday as the No. 1 seed. The full Big South Championship bracket will be revealed later Saturday evening.
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