Lady Flames Win Big South Regular Season Championship
The Lady Flames erased a 17-point second-half deficit and beat High Point University 57-49, securing the Big South regular-season championship Saturday, March 3, at the Vines Center.
Liberty (21-9, 16-2 Big South) will now enter the Big South Women’s Basketball Championship as the No. 1 seed for the 16th time in school history. With the loss, High Point (16-13, 10-8 Big South) will enter the tournament seeded fourth.
Coming into the day, there was a scenario in which the Lady Flames could have missed out on winning the regular-season championship altogether. Had they lost, and Radford beaten Campbell University, the Highlanders would have been hoisting the championship plaque and posing for pictures at mid-court after the game instead.
That scenario seemed imminent during the second half with Liberty trailing High Point by as much as 17, and Radford blowing out Campbell at home.
“I didn’t mention to them that if things went negative, we lost and Radford won, it would have been a two-way tie and they would have had the one-seed – we didn’t even bring that up,” Liberty women’s basketball head coach Carey Green said after the game. “It’s not about Radford; it’s about us.”
Liberty got off to a torrid start offensively, shooting just 21 percent from the field in the first half. The offensive troubles were a result, in large part, of High Point’s pressure defense that forced 13 turnovers in the first 20 minutes of play.
High Point executed its fast break offense as well, seemingly running with every opportunity it got. Forward Shea Morgan and guard Emma Bockrath saw a lot of early success, combining to score half of the Panthers total first-half points. High Point led at halftime 32-17.
“High Point is a very good team,” Green said. “They’re a transition team and a team that really had us on our heels. They were able to get some transition baskets early. We were a little inconsistent, sort of panicked, didn’t handle their pressure very well, and obviously they owned the first half.”
Liberty did not come out of the gate strong in the second half, either. Its deficit increased to as much as 17, with High Point continuing to overwhelm them with intense defensive pressure.
However, halfway through the quarter, the Lady Flames started to find their stroke. KK Barbour hit back-to-back 3-pointers, and then sophomore forward Ola Makurat got hot, scoring ten points in the matter of five possessions.
“Ola was just on fire in the second half,” Green said. “She did an excellent job rebounding. She was very active, got a blocked shot, knocked down some shots, got us rolling.”
In addition to competing for the Big South regular-season championship, the Lady Flames were also celebrating Senior Night for their two seniors, Nene Johnson and Sheana Vega.
“I just wanted to win, especially for Nene and Sheana, so they will remember it for a long time,” Makurat said.
After Makurat’s run, Liberty cut the lead to just one early into the fourth quarter. That is when Johnson, on her senior night, nailed her jump shot to give Liberty a 48-47 lead that it never relinquished.
“The emotions are indescribable right now,” Johnson said after the game. “I could not get a shot to fall for me tonight but for that one to go in, the most important one to go in, that meant a lot.”
After taking the lead, the Lady Flames were able to close out strong, ultimately winning the game with an eight-point cushion. The Lady Flames victory places them as the No. 1 seed heading into the Big South Women’s Basketball Championship.
“I love this team because they’re persistent, they’re not going to give up,” Green said. “They’re a close group. They’re down there partying right now.”
As for his seniors, Green could not say enough about what they have meant to the program.
“As a father, those two young women are people that you would want your son to marry,” Green said. “They’re committed, they’re loyal, they’ve got good values, and they’re just great people. We’re certainly glad and blessed and honored to be able to coach them.”
The Big South Women’s Basketball Championship will be played at the Vines Center March 8-11. Liberty’s first game will be Friday, March 9, against the winner of the Charleston Southern and Longwood match.