Lady Flames fall to FGCU 65-64 at home

They  crawled back from an 11-point deficit and were in position to steal a huge upset victory.

Down by one point with 1.9 seconds remaining, the Liberty Lady Flames basketball team took a timeout to set up an inbounds play from beneath their own basket. 

After a few seconds of scrambling as the Lady Flames attempted to get open, sophomore guard Ria Gulley tried to force the ball inside to sophomore forward Bridgette Rettstatt for a game-winning layup. 

But the ball was not caught cleanly, and the buzzer sounded as Rettstatt and others scrambled on the hardwood floor.

The Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles survived their program’s trip to the Vines Center, eking out a 65-64 win Saturday, Feb. 9. The Eagles kept intact a conference-best winning streak of 10 games and improved to 19-4 overall, including a perfect 10-0 in the ASUN Conference.

“First of all, (I’m) real proud of the effort the girls gave today,” Liberty Head Coach Carey Green said. “They gave a championship effort. We just came up a little short.”

The Lady Flames, who fell to 9-14 overall and 5-5 in ASUN, rallied from a 56-45 deficit late in the third quarter. They briefly took the lead on a Rettstatt turnaround jumper in the paint with 43 seconds remaining.

KJ Jugar | Liberty News Service
CHARGE — The Lady Flames are currently ranked fourth in the ASUN.

But a quick push by Florida Gulf Coast ended with Kerstie Phills converting what proved to be the winning basket with
30 seconds left.

“I don’t think we were intimidated, and we certainly gave a better effort on the defensive end even though we still had some breakdowns,” Green said. “We had an opportunity to win the game.”

The tense battle was a far cry from the teams’ first matchup of the season Jan. 5, as the Eagles cruised to a 68-50 victory in Fort
Meyers, Florida.

“We went into the game with a chip on our shoulder,” Liberty forward Kierra Johnson-Graham said. “We really wanted to win. I’m proud of our team. We pushed hard.”

The Lady Flames started strong, especially on the defensive end, taking a 19-12 advantage early in the second quarter after a basket by senior guard Melis Ucar. 

But the Eagles soon found their footing. A three-pointer by guard Kerstie Phills put Florida Gulf Coast up 22-21 with 4:20 left in the first half and the Lady Flames went into halftime down, 29-26. 

Florida Gulf Coast continued an extended run in the second half, pushing their lead to a game-high 11 points with 1:44 remaining in the third quarter.

The Lady Flames responded with a 14-4 run, punctuated by a beautiful pass from Rettstatt to forward KK Barbour for a layup, to climb to within a point at 60-59.

“The girls really, other than the third quarter, gave a good effort and had an opportunity to win the game,” Green said. “Really proud of their overall involvement and the impact each player has had.”

Sophomore guard Emily Lytle led the Lady Flames in scoring with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. She also grabbed five of the team’s 41 rebounds, while turning the ball over
only once.

Turnovers were a major issue for Liberty, who coughed up the ball 24 times, compared to nine turnovers for the Eagles.

Green said that ball security was “no doubt” the biggest difference maker in determining the outcome of the contest. Florida Gulf Coast scored 29 points off Liberty turnovers.

Andrew Snyder | Liberty News Service
FIGHT — Senior guard Tatyana Crowder fights to keep the Eagles from reaching the basket.

“We can take care of the ball a little better,” Lytle said. “A lot of (the turnovers) were unforced.”

After sitting out the past six games, point guard Ashtyn Baker came off the bench and contributed three assists and three rebounds in almost 12 minutes of action versus Florida Gulf Coast.

“She was a positive contributor today,” Green said. “We’re glad to get her out there, with her speed and everything.”

Baker averaged 7.5 points in the Lady Flames first 16 games of the season. Green would not commit to whether he would start Baker in Liberty’s next contest, which is against Lipscomb University (3-20, 1-9 ASUN) at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12, at the Vines Center.

Regardless of Baker’s availability, the Lady Flames hope to shake off the sting of a heart-breaking defeats and get back on track as the ASUN Tournament and a potential rematch with Florida Gulf
Coast looms.

“We lost by about 18 the first time we played them, but this time we only lost by one,” Johnson-Graham said. “So next time the goal is to beat them how they beat us. It’s hard to beat a team three times.”

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