It was a Big South Championship for the ages with Liberty and Radford going back-and-forth all day. It seemed as if the last possession of the game would determine the outcome and that proved to be the case as Radford's Carlik Jones hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to defeat the Flames, 55-52.
"Congratulations to Radford. They are a really good team that is terrifically well coached," head coach Ritchie McKay said. "They had a really big performance in what I thought was a great atmosphere."
In Sunday's championship bout, neither team had a double-digit lead. The contest saw six different lead changes, plus it was tied five times. Liberty had the ball with 49 seconds left with the score tied 52-52 and Lovell Cabbil was able to get off a three-pointer with 23 seconds left, but Radford collected the rebound off the miss, setting up Jones' game-winner.
"Carlik hit a tough shot, he is a really good player so I just have to tip my hat off to them," Cabbil said. "I thought I got a decent contest but he just hit a big shot at a big moment."
Liberty's Cabbil and Scottie James were named to the Big South All-Tournament Team. Cabbil ended the game with 15 points and seven assists, tying his career-high. James added onto his school record as the only player to record 10 double-doubles during their sophomore season as the big man ended the game with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Most Valuable Player of the tournament, Radford's Jones recorded 13 points, six assists and five rebounds. Liberty's defense was exceptional all night, limiting Radford just 36.2 percent from the field (17-of-47) and just seven made field goals in the second half. While Liberty outshot the Highlanders, converting 18-of-41 (43.9%) field goals, the Flames turned the ball over 15 times, which led to 18 points for Radford.
After Radford scored the first bucket of the game, Liberty went on a 6-0 run, holding the Highlanders scoreless for just over three minutes. Radford responded with a run of its own holding the Flames without a point for nearly three minutes, which led to an 8-0 giving Radford the 12-8 lead.
Cabbil provided the offense for Liberty in the first half, scoring 10 of Liberty's 21 points. While Cabbil was Liberty's catalyst, Devonnte Holland came off the bench for Radford and provided instant offense scoring a game-high 11 points in the first half.
Radford controlled the paint in the first half, outscoring the Flames 18-8 while also grabbing five offensive rebounds and not allowing the Flames to grab one in the half. The Flames would go into the break trailing Radford 26-21. It was the first time in the three games this season Radford had led at the break.
Early in the second half, Liberty would get back-to-back three-pointers from Cabbil and James to come within one point (30-29) of Radford's lead with 16:10 left in the game. Holding onto the lead, the Highlanders responded with an 8-0 run to make it 38-29 for their largest lead of the game.
Once again the Flames would come back, making three straight field goals in a one minute and 24 seconds span to come within one point (42-41) of Radford's lead with 7:41 left in the game. With 7:41 left in the game, Liberty finally was able to take the lead at 43-42 off a pair of Myo Baxter-Bell free throws. Radford would regain the lead while not recording a field goal for eight minutes.
Making another run, Liberty would convert 6-of-8 field goals none bigger than a James' layup plus the foul to put Liberty up 50-48 with 2:47 left in the game. Converting its first field goal in nearly eight minutes, Ed Polite Jr. converted a tough layup to make it 52-50 in Radford's favor with 1:42 left on the clock.
As the game was tight and Jones delivered the game-winner, Radford did not allow Liberty to make a field goal in the last two minutes and 47 seconds of the game. The game was played in front a sellout crowd of 3,859 with over half in Liberty's support.
"It was really exciting to see them (the fans) and we appreciate them," James said. "We felt like it was pretty much a home game so a big shout out to them."
Despite the loss, Liberty still remains in play for to receive an invitation to one of the men's basketball postseason tournament. Postseason tournaments will be announced within a few days after the NCCA Tournament is announced. The Flames became the first team in school history to post back-to-back 20-win seasons and set the new record for most wins (41) during a two-year span.
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