Nene Johnson set season highs in both points (13) and assists (7) during Friday's 70-68 loss at Valparaiso.
Amber Lindfors beat the final buzzer with a bank shot from close range, lifting Valparaiso to a dramatic 70-68 victory over Liberty, Friday evening at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
Kierra Johnson-Graham gave the Lady Flames a 68-64 lead with a driving layup at the 1:21 mark of the fourth quarter. However, the Crusaders scored six unanswered points to end the game, including Lindfors' game-winner.
With just 0.8 seconds on the fourth-quarter clock, Georgi Donchetz inbounded the ball from directly in front of the Valparaiso bench. Her lob pass found Lindfors on the far block, and the sophomore's shot found the bottom of the net.
Liberty falls to 0-4 for just the second time in Carey Green's 18 seasons as head coach despite impressive performances by Audrey Rettstatt (career-high 14 points), Nene Johnson (season-high 13 points, season-high seven assists, zero turnovers in 32 minutes) and Kierra Johnson-Graham (10 points, team-high eight rebounds).
Valparaiso, which improves to 3-2, got 29 points and 11 rebounds from Dani Franklin, a game-high 12 boards from Lindfors and nine assists from Hannah Schaub.
Franklin scored the first five points of the evening, initiating an 8-0 game-opening run by the host Crusaders. Valparaiso's lead eventually reached 10 points (18-8) before Liberty closed the quarter with four straight tallies. Johnson's first three-pointer of the season cut the Lady Flames' deficit to 18-12 at the end of 10 minutes, despite a 22.2 percent (4-of-18) shooting performance by the visitors.
Liberty made its first four shot attempts of the second quarter, including a pair by Ola Makurat. The freshman's triple from the right wing pulled the Lady Flames to within 23-21, 7:44 before halftime.
Liberty tied the score twice before taking its first lead of the game (34-33) on Jordan Woods' putback just before the halftime buzzer. Her first hoop of the year closed out a season-best 22-point quarter for the blue-clad Lady Flames.
Nine different Liberty players scored points during the first half, paced by Keyen Green and Iva Ilic with six apiece. Franklin's 10 points for Valparaiso led all players during the first 20 minutes.
The Crusaders connected on three triples during the first 4:31 of the second half, including one by Franklin which put the home team on top, 43-38. Valparaiso did not relinquish the advantage for the remainder of the period, as Liberty made only two of its 17 field goal attempts (11.8 percent). Valpo led by a 51-46 count heading to the fourth quarter.
The back-and-forth final 10 minutes saw three ties and four lead changes. Rettstatt, Johnson and Johnson-Graham combined for 20 of Liberty's 22 points during the quarter. However, Johnson-Graham and Johnson were both unable to connect on layups during the final minute, opening the door for the Crusaders.
Franklin scored 12 fourth-quarter points for the victors and Lindfors had the game-winning tallies, but Donchetz also played a key role down the stretch. During the final 34 seconds, she made a pair of free throws, grabbed two boards and dished out the game-winning assist.
Valparaiso made 40.4 percent (21-of-52) of its field goal attempts, compared to 30.1 percent (22-of-73) for the Lady Flames. Both squads hit nine triples on the evening, which was notable because Liberty had only made 10 three-pointers during its first four games of the season.
The Crusaders had the edge at the free throw line, going 19-of-23 (82.6 percent), including 9-of-9 in the fourth quarter. Liberty finished at 15-of-24 (62.5 percent).
Bolstered by 25 offensive rebounds, Liberty owned a 45-43 edge on the glass. The Lady Flames also committed a season-low 10 turnovers while coming up with a season-best 14 steals.
Liberty saw some familiar faces during its first road game of the 2016-17 season. Valparaiso Head Coach Tracey Dorow is the sister of Liberty Assistant Coach Andy Bloodworth. Meanwhile, Valparaiso Assistant Coach Megan (Frazee) Leuzinger was a standout during her playing career with the Lady Flames (2005-06 through 2008-09).
Up Next Liberty will play its next two games at the Navy Classic, Dec. 3 & 4 in Annapolis, Md. The Lady Flames will open the weekend against Commonwealth foe Richmond on Dec. 3 at either 2 or 6 p.m. Liberty will then face host Navy on Dec. 4 at 4:15 p.m. to wrap up the two-day event.