Lela Sellers' three-pointer from the corner with 2:04 remaining produced the sixth and final lead change of a back-and-forth fourth quarter, putting Liberty ahead for good, Saturday evening at the Vines Center. The Lady Flames then survived a last-second three-point attempt by Tierra Huntsman, hanging on for a 66-63 victory.
Gardner-Webb led by as many as six points early in a fourth quarter which included three ties and six lead changes. But the Runnin' Bulldogs missed their final five field goal attempts over the last 1:43, including Huntsman's three-point try which fell short of the mark as the final buzzer sounded. Tatyana Crowder followed Sellers' key triple with two free throws at the 1:21 mark, making the final score 66-63.
Liberty, which improved to 8-13 overall and 7-3 in the Big South, avenged an 84-82 overtime setback at Gardner-Webb on Jan. 15. The Lady Flames remain one game behind Big South co-leaders Campbell and Radford after their third straight win overall, their sixth straight home win and their sixth consecutive victory over the Runnin' Bulldogs inside the Vines Center.
Keyen Green scored 12 of her team-high 16 points after halftime for the Lady Flames, while Ola Makurat (11 points, game-high 8 rebounds) and Sellers (10 points) also reached double digits. Liberty shot 46.7 percent (7-of-15) from three-point range, but Sellers' timely triple was the Lady Flames' only second-half three-pointer.
Gardner-Webb drops to 9-12 overall and 4-6 in the Big South despite a career-high 20 points and five triples from Kiera Currie. Huntsman chipped in 13 points, five assists and four steals for the Runnin' Bulldogs, who became the first opposing team to outrebound Liberty in the last 11 games, 37-31.
Liberty shot 4-of-5 from three-point range during the first quarter, capped off by Sellers' buzzer-beating triple from deep in the corner. Her hoop put the Lady Flames in front by a 20-11 count at the end of the period. Gardner-Webb won the first-quarter rebounding battle, 11-9, but shot just 27.8 percent (5-of-18) from the field during the stanza.
The Lady Flames' hot shooting did not carry over to the early part of the second quarter, as Liberty missed its first six shots from the field. Gardner-Webb scored nine unanswered points during that time, tying the score at 20-20 on Currie's three-pointer at the 6:31 mark.
Liberty then made five of its next six field goal attempts during a 12-2 run. Makurat bookended the surge with baskets, including a putback which gave the Lady Flames a 32-22 advantage 2:49 before halftime.
Again Gardner-Webb bounced back, scoring nine of the half's final 11 points. A deep jumper by Alexus Hill trimmed the visitors' halftime deficit to 34-31.
Liberty shot extremely well from the perimeter during the first 20 minutes, making 6-of-11 three-point tries for 54.5 percent. Meanwhile, Gardner-Webb scored 18 of its first-half points inside the paint.
After being held to four first-half points, Green scored six points during the first 3:44 of the third quarter, helping Liberty push its lead back to eight points on two occasions. Gardner-Webb went 6:43 before making its first field goal of the second half, but stayed close by getting to the foul line early and often.
The Runnin' Bulldogs shot 12-of-16 from the free throw line during the third quarter. Two Ky'Asia Stanford charity tosses with seven seconds remaining tied the score at 48-all heading to the final period.
Currie and Huntsman opened the fourth quarter with back-to-back triples, providing the Runnin' Bulldogs their largest lead of the game (54-48) with 9:02 remaining. Tatyana Crowder's free throw at 6:45 punctuated a 7-0 Liberty run, briefly giving the Lady Flames a 55-54 edge. The lead changed hands three more times before Sellers' aforementioned three-pointer.
Liberty's second tight victory of the week marked the 12th game in 21 all-time meetings between the Lady Flames and Runnin' Bulldogs to be decided by 10 points or fewer.
In addition to its three-point proficiency, Liberty also shot well from the field (47.3 percent, 26-of-55) and the foul line (77.8 percent, 7-of-9). The Lady Flames outscored Gardner-Webb inside the paint, 36-24, including 24-6 after halftime.
Gardner-Webb shot 37.5 percent (21-of-56) from the floor, 31.6 percent (6-of-19) from three-point range and 78.9 percent (15-of-19) from the free throw line. But the Runnin' Bulldogs did not attempt a foul shot during the fourth quarter, while seven of Liberty's nine free throw attempts for the game came during the final 10 minutes.
Sellers was the only Lady Flame to hit two three-pointers, as six different Liberty players connected from behind the arc. She and KK Barbour (9 points, 5 rebounds) were the major contributors to the Lady Flames' 25-8 advantage in bench points. Barbour also recorded two of Liberty's six blocked shots, giving the Lady Flames 38 rejections in the last five games.
For the second straight game, Crowder played a key role down the stretch, hitting three free throws in the fourth quarter. The sophomore tied her career high for both points (six) and assists (three) for the Lady Flames.
Backcourt mate Nene Johnson played a career-high 38 minutes for the Lady Flames, tallying nine points, a team-high five assists and only two turnovers.
One of Liberty's defensive highlights was limiting Hill to eight points on 3-of-14, following the Gardner-Webb junior's 27-point outburst during the teams' first matchup of the season.
Up Next Liberty will play host to Big South co-leader Radford (16-5, 8-2 Big South), Tuesday at 7 p.m. inside the Vines Center. The Commonwealth foes will be meeting just 15 days after the Highlanders recorded a 76-68 home victory over the Lady Flames at the Dedmon Center on Jan. 24.