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Flames Claim 2013 Big South Championship and NCAA Tournament Bid

March 10, 2013
|  Conway, S.C.
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Liberty captured its third Big South Championship and NCAA Tournament bid in program history with an 87-76 win over Charleston Southern.
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The Liberty men's basketball team will put on its dancing shoes for the first time in nine years. Head coach Dale Layer and the No. 5 North seed Flames defeated No. 1 South seed Charleston Southern, 87-76, in the finals of the 2013 VisitMyrtleBeach.com Big South Championship, Sunday afternoon at The HTC Center.

The victory, which capped off a remarkable run of four wins in six days, marks Liberty's (15-20) third Big South Championship in program history and the first since 2004

Liberty will now learn its place in the NCAA Tournament bracket, March 17, at 6 p.m. on CBS.

The Flames NCAA Tournament bid comes after starting the season 0-8. According to STATS, Inc., since the 1996-97 season, three other teams have started the season 0-8 or worse and made the NCAA Tournament – 2009-10 Arkansas-Pine Bluff (0-11), 2007-08 Mississippi Valley State (0-8) and 1998-99 Florida A&M (0-10).

With its record on the year, Liberty will be just the second team in history to make the tournament with 20-plus losses. The other was 2007-08 Coppin State (16-20 entering tourney).

John Caleb Sanders led all scorers with 27 points, tying his career high. The Sugar Land, Texas native now needs eight more points to become the 23rd member of Liberty's 1,000-point club.

Davon Marshall followed with 20 points, going 6-of-7 from three-point range and 2-of-2 at the foul line. The junior set a new Big South Championship record for most three-pointers during the tournament, going 17-of-24 from beyond the arc during the Flames' four wins. Marshall is now second on Liberty's single-season three-point list with 101 treys. He needs just two more to surpass Seth Curry's record of 102 set in 2009.

Tavares Speaks rounded out Liberty's double digit scorers with 18 points, adding a career-high nine rebounds.

Marshall was voted the tournament's Most Valuable Player, while Sanders, Speaks and Charleston Southern's Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper made up the rest of the all-tournament team.
Nimley paced the Buccaneers (19-11) with 18 tallies, followed by Jeremy Sexton (17), Harper (14), Mathiang Muo (12) and Sheldon Strickland (10).

Liberty shot 48.2 percent (27-of-56) on the afternoon, including 9-of-18 (50.0 percent) from three-point land.  Charleston Southern concluded the contest with 41.7 percent shooting (25-of-60), going 9-of-28 (32.1 percent) from long distance.

The opening minutes mimicked a three-point shooting contest, with Liberty receiving back-to-back treys from Sanders and Marshall. Muo countered for the Buccaneers, sinking a three of his own to jumpstart a 7-0 Charleston Southern run. The No. 1 South seed held the lead briefly with a Nimley jumper at 14:24. Liberty reclaimed the advantage 22 ticks later off a Vander Pol layup and followed with a Speaks jumper to lead 10-7 at 13:49.

Strickland helped the Buccaneers regain the lead with under 12 minutes left in the half, knocking down a three-pointer. Marshall responded on the opposite end with his second trifecta of the contest to put Liberty back on top. After a layup by Sanders, Marshall nailed another shot from downtown to cap an 8-0 Liberty run. Harper halted the burst at 9:38, hitting a three-pointer to pull Charleston Southern within three, 18-15.

Harper allowed the Buccaneers to recapture the lead with 6:29 left in the period. Once again, the advantage was short-lived. Another Sanders three-pointer put the Flames back on top 15 seconds later, but a Nimley jumper knotted the game at 25. The contest remained close in the remaining minutes, with three more ties occurring before halftime.

Cedrick Bowen put the Buccaneers ahead by one with 12 seconds on the clock, going 1-for-2 at the foul line. With the Flames having the period's final possession, Speaks sank a jumper at the buzzer to give Liberty a 35-34 lead at halftime.

Liberty shot 40.0 percent (12-of-30) from the field in the opening stanza, while the overall No. 1 seed finished with 37.9 percent shooting (11-of-29) for the half. Each team knocked down five three-pointers, with points in the paint also even at six.

Sanders led all scorers at halftime with 12 tallies, followed by Marshall with 11. Harper and Sexton each had seven points for Charleston Southern.

In the second half, the Buccaneers took a three-point lead in the opening minutes thanks to a Harper trey. The Flames went on a 7-0 run off four straight points from Sanders and a Smith jumper. Following a jump shot by Nimley, Marshall's fourth three-pointer of the game gave the Flames a 46-42 edge at 16:29.

With the Flames still leading by four, Marshall hit his fifth three-pointer of the game and 100th of the season at 12:06, following up with his sixth and final trifecta of the afternoon nearly six minutes later. Liberty took its largest lead of 14, 68-54, with 5:28 left in the contest, courtesy of a Gielo trey.

Charleston Southern got within eight tallies in the remaining minutes, but was forced to foul during the final moments, leading to Liberty's third tournament championship and the 87-76 victory.