After missing the last nine games due to injury, Big South Preseason Player of the Year Ashley Rininger made a successful return to the court for Liberty, Saturday afternoon at the Vines Center. She posted eight points and six rebounds off the bench, helping the Lady Flames record their season-best fifth win in a row, 56-43 over High Point.
The other two-thirds of Liberty's "Big 3" post players also made key contributions for the Lady Flames in a rematch of the 2015 Big South Women's Basketball Championship title game. Katelyn Adams tied her season high of 11 points and pulled down a team-high seven rebounds, while Catherine Kearney chipped in eight points, six boards and three of Liberty's seven blocked shots.
Following a 3-7 start to the season, the Lady Flames are 9-1 in the last 10 games, improving to 12-8 overall. Liberty remains tied with UNC Asheville atop the Big South standings at 9-2 following the Lady Flames' 19th straight home win over a conference opponent.
High Point, which had won four of its last five games entering Saturday's matinee, falls to 7-13 overall and 6-5 in conference play. The Panthers shot just 29.8 percent (17-of-57) for the game and posted their second lowest scoring output of the season.
Rininger made her return to action at 6:21 of the first quarter and sparked an 8-0 run with four points and three rebounds. The Lady Flames took a 13-4 lead through 10 minutes of play despite committing eight turnovers, as High Point had eight turnovers of its own and shot just 2-of-12 from the field.
After Jaymee Fisher-Davis opened the second-quarter scoring with a driving left-handed layup, High Point trimmed an 11-point deficit to two with a 9-0 run. Shea Morgan's mid-range jumper with 3:25 left in the period made it a 15-13 game. Rininger and Adams then combined for seven points in a 1:16 span, helping Liberty maintain the lead, 22-15, heading to the intermission.
The Lady Flames were in front at the half despite committing 15 turnovers and misfiring on all 11 of their three-point attempts during the opening half. Liberty held High Point to 24 percent (6-of-25) shooting and owned a 25-12 rebounding advantage in the first 20 minutes.
Liberty made four of its first six field goal attempts to start the second half, taking a 31-20 lead when Mickayla Sanders made the Lady Flames' first triple of the game at 7:02 of the third quarter. After High Point hit three straight field goals to make it 33-26, Liberty closed the stanza with a 6-0 surge. Kearney's first two hoops of the game wrapped up the run, sending the Lady Flames into the final quarter on top, 39-26.
Liberty also scored the fourth quarter's first six points, extending to a 12-0 run with a pair of Fisher-Davis three-pointers. Her second triple, which swished through the net at the 7:59 mark, gave Liberty its largest lead of the day, 45-26.
High Point outscored the Lady Flames, 12-4, during the next 3:07, cutting its deficit to 49-38 on Kyrie Chandler's three-point play at 4:52. Liberty then reclaimed momentum by scoring four points in the next six seconds, courtesy of two technical free throws by Sanders and a fast break layup by Sadalia Ellis, off of a nice inbounds pass from Sanders.
The Lady Flames went on to close out their fifth consecutive home win with a 13-point margin of victory.
Liberty, which scored 34 points in the paint, shot 41.5 percent (22-of-53) for the game. However, the Lady Flames struggled from both the three-point line (16.7 percent, 3-of-18) and the foul line (56.3 percent, 9-of-16).
The Lady Flames recorded 12 assists and nine turnovers after halftime following a 3-to-15 assist-to-turnover ratio during the first 20 minutes. Liberty also forced 20 High Point turnovers for the game and converted the miscues into 21 points.
Liberty outrebounded its seventh straight opponent, 42-32, and came up with a season-high 11 steals.
Rininger, who played 14 minutes in her first appearance since Dec. 17 at Duke, added two assists, two blocks and a pair of steals to her points and rebounds.
Fisher-Davis ended up with eight points, including two second-half triples.
The youthful Panthers were led by a trio of freshmen, including Lindsey Edwards (10 points, 4 steals), Emma Bockrath (9 points) and Haleigh Hatfield (8 rebounds). Junior Kaylah Keys, the team's leading scorer at 14.2 ppg, was limited to seven points.
Liberty will next play at Charleston Southern (10-10, 5-6 Big South), Monday at 7 p.m. inside the Buc Dome. The Lady Flames will attempt to complete a season sweep of the Buccaneers, after notching a 51-40 home win over CSU on Dec. 5, 2015.