With Liberty clinging to a one-point lead over Charleston Southern heading to the fourth quarter, Big South Preseason Player of the Year Ashley Rininger took over. She single-handedly outscored the Buccaneers, 12-6, during the final 10 minutes, helping the Lady Flames pull away for a 51-40 victory, Saturday afternoon at the Vines Center.
After being honored for joining the 1,000-point club during a pregame ceremony, Rininger added a game-high 18 points to her career total despite being limited by foul trouble for most of the first half. She also tied for the game lead with nine rebounds, helping Liberty snap its five-game losing skid and pick up its first Big South win of 2015-16.
The Lady Flames, now 3-5 overall and 1-1 in conference play, have won 10 straight meetings with Charleston Southern, 15 consecutive home games against Big South foes and 22 straight home matchups with CSU.
Charleston Southern falls to 5-3 overall and 1-1 in the Big South with its 26th straight setback away from the Buc Dome, dating back to the 2013-14 season. The Buccaneers shot just 29.6 percent (16-of-54) for the game and the conference's leading scorer, Alyssa Mann, was held to five points on 2-of-16 shooting.
Charleston Southern missed its first six field goal attempts as Liberty opened a 7-0 advantage to start the game. The Buccaneers came back to tie the score at 9-9 before the Lady Flames fashioned a 6-0 run, sparked by two Rininger hoops. Liberty took a 15-11 lead into the second quarter.
CSU scored the first five points of the second period, taking its only lead of the game (16-15) on a Shauntavia Dobson three-pointer from the right wing at 7:57. The Buccaneers' advantage was short-lived, as Sheana Vega hit a layup on Liberty's next possession. The Lady Flames did not trail again during the opening 20 minutes, but the game was deadlocked at 25-25 at the end of the first half.
The Lady Flames limited Charleston Southern to one made field goal during the first 4:47 of the third quarter, building a 33-28 edge on Rininger's layup at the 5:50 mark. Liberty ended the quarter with a 35-34 advantage despite being held scoreless for the final 4:09.
It was navy blue-clad CSU which suffered an extended scoreless drought to start the fourth quarter. The Buccaneers did not score a point until Rachel Burns hit a jumper with just 3:10 remaining in the contest. By that time, Rininger had tallied six of her fourth-quarter points and Liberty had built a nine-point lead (43-34). Charleston Southern got no closer than seven the rest of the way.
Liberty did not scorch the nets on Saturday, finishing at 35.3 percent (18-of-51) from the field and 20 percent (3-of-15) from the three-point line. But the Lady Flames used their staples of defense and rebounding to pull out a victory.
Liberty limited CSU to 15 second-half points and outrebounded the Buccaneers by a 28-11 count during the final 20 minutes, finishing the game with a 46-29 edge on the boards.
Rininger, who became the 15th member of Liberty's 1,000-point club the last time CSU visited the Vines Center (Feb. 21, 2015), scored in double figures for the 15th straight game.
Liberty also got considerable production from each of its three starting guards—Mikal Johnson, Jaymee Fisher-Davis and Candice Leatherwood. Johnson posted a season-high 10 points and pulled down nine rebounds, falling one board shy of her first career double-double. She made all six of her free throw attempts after shooting just 3-of-9 at the foul line during the season's first seven games.
Fisher-Davis chipped in eight points and a career-best five rebounds. She hit a pair of three-pointers, marking the senior's fifth straight game with multiple triples made.
Making her first career start at point guard, Leatherwood finished with seven points and a career-high five boards in a career-high 34 minutes played.
Dobson came off the CSU bench to score a team-high 14 points. Brianna Lakes paced the visitors with nine rebounds.
Liberty will now prepare to host No. 22/21 Seton Hall (7-0) next Saturday afternoon (Dec. 12), tipping off at 5 p.m. inside the Vines Center. The first-ever meeting between the Lady Flames and Pirates will be part of a doubleheader with the Liberty men's basketball team, following the Flames' clash with Lamar at 2 p.m.