Jesse Sanders notched his 500th career assist in the Flames contest against Eastern Kentucky, Friday night.
Hosting the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, the Liberty men's basketball squared off with Eastern Kentucky, Friday night, inside the Vines Center. Despite hanging with the Colonels the entire contest, the Flames could not climb over the hump during the final moments, falling to the visitors, 73-65.
The defeat drops Liberty to 2-2 on the season, while the Colonels improve to 2-2. The all-time series between the two programs is now tied, 2-2.
Jesse Sanders and David Minaya led the Flames with 19 points apiece. Sanders achieved a milestone finishing with four assists to pick up his 500th career helper. The Sugar Land, Texas native now has 501 assists as a Flame.
Joshua Jones finished the contest as the Colonels' leading scorer, posting 15 tallies.
The Colonels jumped out to an 8-1 lead in the opening 3:12 off three-pointers from Timmy Knipp and Jeff Allgood and an Eric Stutz layup. Liberty responded with a five-point burst courtesy of a traditional three-point play by Sanders and a Tavares Speaks layup. Following another Eastern Kentucky trey, Sanders answered with back-to-back layups to make it a one-point game, 11-10, at 13:46.
With Liberty keeping it close, the Colonels created some distance with its fourth three-pointer of the half at 10:07. The Flames countered in the ensuing 3:53, going on a 6-0 run off baskets from David Minaya, Sanders and Speaks. The burst gave Liberty a 20-18 advantage at 6:13.
Both teams traded baskets during the closing minutes of the period. Joel Vander Pol tied the contest with 27 ticks left, resulting in a 28-28 halftime score.
The Colonels hit 12-of-28 shots (42.9 percent) from the field in the first half, while the Flames hit 40.0 percent on 12-of-28 shooting. Eastern Kentucky held the advantage from beyond the three-point arc, outscoring Liberty, 12-0. However the Flames proved stronger in the paint, edging the Colonels, 20-14.
Sanders paced the Flames in the opening period with 10 points. Stutz was the leading scorer for the Colonels with eight points.
For the third straight game, Antwan Burrus kick started the Flames offense in the second half, nailing a jumper during the first 30 seconds. Following an 8-0 Colonels run, Liberty responded with seven straight tallies of its own. Minaya capped off the burst with a three-pointer, giving the Flames a 37-36 advantage at 15:12.
Eastern Kentucky regained the lead with a Mike DiNunno bucket 18 ticks later and began to create a cushion, outscoring the Flames 13-4 during the next 5:14. Jaron Jones knocked down a three-pointer for the Colonels with 10:40 left in the contest, giving the visitors a 51-41 advantage.
The Colonels continued to maintain their double-digit advantage during the next 4:42. The Flames cut the deficit in half just under the five minute mark. Speaks sealed a 5-0 spurt for Liberty with a layup at 4:58, making it 58-53.
Sanders picked up his 500th career assist with 2:18 left on the clock, dishing it to Speaks, who laid it in to make it 65-60. Liberty cut it to three, 65-62, with 1:39 remaining thanks to a jumper by Speaks. Unfortunately, Liberty could not climb any closer, as the Colonels went on to edge the Flames, 73-65.
Both teams mirrored each other from the field on the night, hitting 27-of-57 shots (47.4 percent). Eastern Kentucky shot 45.5 percent from behind the three-point arc, while the Flames shot just 18.2 percent (2-of-11). Liberty controlled the paint, outscoring the Colonels, 38-28.
Along with dual 19-point performances from Sanders and Minaya, Speaks finished as the Flames' third double-digit scorer with 14 tallies. Stutz and Jaron Jones also had 14 apiece for the Colonels.
The 2K Sports Classic continues in the Vines Center tomorrow with Eastern Kentucky playing William & Mary at 4:30 p.m. Liberty will close out the night, squaring off with Lehigh, who defeated the Tribe earlier in the afternoon, 82-57. Game time for Saturday's nightcap is slated for 7 p.m.