Flames' Jesse Sanders
Playing a Big 12 opponent for the first time in four years, the Liberty men's basketball team opened play in the South Padre Island Invitational against Texas Tech. Despite Liberty holding a four-point lead at halftime, a second-half surge by the Red Raiders allowed Texas Tech to win its opening matchup of the South Padre Island Invitational, 79-71. With the defeat, Liberty falls to 2-3 on the season, while the Red Raiders improve to 3-1. Liberty jumped out to an early lead in the opening minutes off baskets from five different Flames. Evan Gordon gave Liberty a 14-5 lead at 16:21, nailing a jumper from behind the three-point line to force the Red Raiders to call a timeout. After the 30-second break, Texas Tech's Brad Reese answered with a trey of his own to cut its deficit to six points, 14-8.
The Flames extended their lead over the next few minutes. Following a missed layup, Joel Vander Pol cleaned up the attempt with a put back to give Liberty a nine-point lead, 19-10 at 12:03.
Texas Tech began to chip away at the Flames' advantage, posting four unanswered points, to make it 19-14. A wild possession ensued near the 10-minute mark of the opening stanza. After several shot attempts by the Flames, the Red Raiders were able to gain possession with a defensive rebound. However, John Brown quickly turned the tables, snatching the ball back and finding Antwan Burrus down low on the blocks for a quick layup to create a six-point cushion, 21-15. Following a four-point burst by the Red Raiders, the Flames prevented their host from tying or taking the lead, as Gordon once again sunk a three pointer from the far side to make it a five-point contest. Minaya then tacked on two more tallies with a layup from right under the basket to extend the bulge, 26-19, at 6:47.
The Red Raiders responded over the next few minutes, cutting the Liberty advantage down to two, with a Mike Singletary layup to make it, 26-24 with 4:34 remaining. The Flames held off the pursuing Red Raiders to carry a four-point lead into the locker room at intermission. A Vander Pol layup at the buzzer gave Liberty a 30-26 lead at the midway point. Minaya led the way for Liberty at the half with eight points, followed by Gordon with six. Mike Davis and Singletary were the Red Raiders' leading scorers with seven points apiece. John Brown crashed the boards in the opening period, concluding the opening 20 minutes with nine. Despite being even with 10 turnovers, Liberty took advantage of the Red Raiders' miscues in the first half, outscoring Texas Tech off turnovers, 12-6. The Flames also held the edge in the paint, 18-10. Liberty shot 39.4 percent from the floor in the period, sinking 13-of-33 shots, while holding the home team to 36.6 percent (9-of-26). The Red Raiders busted out of the gate in the second period, scoring five unanswered points to take their first lead since the 18:56 mark of the first half. John Roberson put Texas Tech over the top at 19:03, sinking a three-pointer to make it 31-30. The Red Raiders went on a 10-0 run, gaining a six-point advantage at 17:21, 36-30. The Red Raiders made it a nine-point game with 14:06 remaining in the contest, as Roberson knocked down a three-pointer to give the home team a 45-36 advantage. Less than a minute later, Liberty cut it back to five with layups from Minaya and Brown, to cut the deficit to 45-40. After Texas Tech upped its lead back to eight points, John Caleb Sanders helped Liberty pull back within five, swishing a three-pointer from the near corner, slcing the Liberty deficit to 54-49 with 9:42 left in the contest. Texas Tech began to pull away again, going on a five-point spurt to create a double-digit advantage at 59-49. However, Sanders stepped up once again, knocking down another trey to slice the margin to seven, 59-52, at 7:48. Unfazed by Sanders' daggers, the Red Raiders continued to up the ante, increasing their lead to 13 points courtesy of a Reese dunk with 5:33 left on the game clock. The jam gave the home team a 66-53 advantage. Liberty closed teh gap in the wanning minutes, but it was not enough as the Red Raiders held on for the 79-71 decision. Gordon finished as the Flames leading scorer with 18 points, followed by Burrus (13) and Minaya (12). David Tairu led the Red Raiders with 15 tallies. Liberty shot 40.6 percent from the field in the contest, hitting 28-of-69 shots. The Red Raiders finished the game shooting 48.4 percent. The Flames continue play in the South Padre Island Invitational on Tuesday. Liberty will make the trek to Tampa, Fla., to take on South Florida before returning to the Lone Star State to close out the invitational in South Padre. Tipoff inside the Bulls' Sun Dome is set for 7 p.m.