Lady Flames basketball defeat rival FGCU for the first time in program history
For the first time in program history, the Liberty women’s basketball team beat FGCU 88-78 in a nail-biting game, one that required overtime to decide a winner.
Entering Liberty Arena on Saturday night, the Flames were 0-11 against the Eagles, a team who boasts a 38-game road win streak against ASUN opponents. Just 19 days before, the Eagles claimed a 17-point victory over the Flames. Liberty’s Kennedi Williams and Mya Berkman, however, proved to be too much for the Eagles, with both scoring in the double digits and converting tough shots in pivotal moments. Head Coach Carey Green praised his team for playing with “backbone” and “guts.”
“It certainly makes a statement to our players. … I’m really proud of the defensive effort, and I think it’s a good confidence builder for us,” Green said. “If we come out solid and stick to the game plan, we’ll be okay.”
From the tipoff, FGCU controlled the pace of the game. Playing physical while also finishing shots, the Eagles led by as many as 10 with senior guard Sophia Stiles scoring 17 of her 24 points in the first half. Still, the Flames never let the game slip away with redshirt senior center Berkman finding success in the paint, shooting 5-5 from the field early on.
After trailing by four points at the end of the first half, the Lady Flames started to sink shots from beyond the arc. Redshirt junior Williams scored Liberty’s first nine points of the half, grabbing the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter. With momentum mounting, the freshman guard out of the Netherlands, Pien Steenberger, connected on back-to-back 3-point shots, sending the game into a back-and-forth frenzy of lead changes.
Late in the fourth quarter, with 26 seconds on the clock, a pair of free throws from FGCU put them up five points. After Berkman finished a hard putback layup and FGCU missed a pair of free throws amid a raucous crowd, sophomore guard Emma Hess drained a clutch 3-pointer to send the game to overtime.
Williams said that the message after regulation was simple: “It’s not over, it’s not over… This is where we want to be, so use that energy and put it into what we need to do to win.”
In overtime, Williams took control. Scoring eight points and not missing a shot, Liberty’s lead guard outscored the entire FGCU team to seal a 10-point victory against the ASUN-leading Eagles. As the clock ticked down to zero, Berkman and Brown waved the crowd on as all in attendance stood for a historic 88-78 victory in the Liberty Arena.
“We can use this game as a confidence booster, but also a reminder that if you did it one time, you can do it again,” William said. “That’s the energy we need to continue to go undefeated for the rest of the regular season and then go into the conference tournament.”
“This is a historic win for us, and we’re really grateful and thankful for God blessing us with this opportunity and giving it all for his glory,” Green said after the game. “I think we put a smile on his face. I know he certainly put a smile on our face tonight.”
Conference play intensifies for the Flames with a two-game road trip to Austin Peay and Lipscomb next weekend. After Saturday’s win, Liberty improves to 11-7 on the season and 5-2 in the ASUN conference. Liberty sits just one game back from first place with three teams (FGCU, Austin Peay, Lipscomb) tied for first.
Rivas is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on Twitter