Radford rallied from a 17-point deficit to take the lead in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's game at the Vines Center before Liberty pulled out a 49-48 nailbiter. A clutch three-pointer by Audrey Rettstatt, key free throws by Nene Johnson and Tatyana Crowder and a couple late defensive stands helped the Lady Flames win and move into a tie for first place in the Big South standings with Radford and Campbell.
Radford (16-6, 8-3 Big South), which trailed by as many as 17 points in the second quarter, 14 in the third quarter and 11 with 6:38 remaining in the fourth quarter, never folded. Sydney Nunley scored seven points during a 13-1 run which ended on Khiana Johnson's perimeter hoop with 2:23 to play which put the Highlanders on top, 44-43.
Two possessions later, Nene Johnson found an open Rettstatt right in front of the Liberty (9-13, 8-3 Big South) bench. The Lady Flames' lone senior swished the corner three-pointer, giving the Lady Flames a lead they would never relinquish at 46-44 with 1:19 left.
With Liberty clinging to a one-point lead, Nene Johnson came up with a steal and went on to make a pair of free throws. Crowder then rebounded Khiana Johnson's contested three-pointer which fell well short and split the ensuing pair of free throws. Crowder's conversion proved to be important as Destinee Walker hit a long triple, Radford's lone made three-pointer of the contest, just before the final buzzer to produce the final one-point margin, 49-48.
Liberty, which is now on a season-best four-game winning streak, has won its last three games by a combined 10 points. The Lady Flames have won seven straight home games overall and six consecutive home contests against Radford. They have also defeated a Big South co-leader on each of the last two Tuesdays, following their 58-52 triumph at Campbell a week ago.
Liberty triumphed despite shooting just 28.1 percent (16-of-57) from the field, including 16.7 percent (4-of-24) after halftime. Iva Ilic led the way with a game-high 15 points, while Keyen Green produced her seventh double-double of the season (10 points, game-high 10 rebounds) one day after winning her fifth Big South Freshman of the Week award this season.
Radford, which has now lost three of its last four road games this season and 22 of its last 23 visits to the Vines Center, got 14 points from Walker and a career-high 13 points and nine rebounds from Nunley. Nunley's play in the post was especially important after standout Jayda Worthy was forced to leave the game with an injury at 6:23 of the third quarter.
The Highlanders, who had shot 80 percent (8-of-10) during a 76-68 home win over the Lady Flames on Jan. 24, made only 7.7 percent (1-of-13) from beyond the arc on Tuesday.
Radford scored the game's first five points before going the last 8:46 of the first quarter without making another field goal. Liberty outscored the Highlanders, 17-3, to close the period, highlighted by back-to-back banked-in three-pointers by Ilic and KK Barbour.
Ilic scored 10 first-quarter points on 4-of-5 from the field, and Crowder put an exclamation point on the opening 10 minutes with a steal and layup as the horn sounded. Liberty owned a 17-8 lead at the end of a first quarter which saw Radford shoot just 20 percent (2-of-10) with six turnovers.
The Lady Flames kept up the defensive pressure during the second quarter, limiting Radford to another eight-point session. Liberty was able to bolster its lead to a game-high 17 points (31-14) on Nene Johnson's steal and ensuing layup 1:53 points before halftime. The Lady Flames then took a 31-16 lead into the intermission.
Liberty held Radford to 28.6 percent (6-of-21) from the field in the first half, including 0-of-6 from three-point range. Meanwhile, the Lady Flames connected on 55.6 percent (5-of-9) of their three-point tries prior to halftime, including two apiece by Ilic and Barbour. Ilic paced all scorers with 12 first-half points.
The Highlanders scored six straight points to start the third quarter, extending their overall run to 8-0 spanning the two halves. Claudia Quevedo's hoop at the 7:27 mark pulled the visitors to within 31-22. Liberty made only one of its 14 field goal attempts during the third quarter, but was able to keep its lead in double digits (38-28) heading to the final 10 minutes.
The Lady Flames were not much better offensively in the fourth quarter, making only 30 percent (3-of-10) from the field and 50 percent (4-of-8) from the foul line. But one of those field goals was Rettstatt's crucial triple and Liberty was able to go 3-of-4 at the charity stripe during the game's final 11.9 seconds.
For much of the second half, the game was eerily reminiscent of Radford's last win at the Vines Center, which came on Jan. 17, 2011. That night, the Lady Flames owned a 15-point second-half lead before the Highlanders roared back for a 62-53 victory.
Despite Liberty's offensive struggles, the Lady Flames were able to shoot 43.8 percent (7-of-16) from three-point range for the game, including three triples by Ilic.
Liberty owned a 41-34 rebounding advantage, but was outscored inside the paint by a 26-16 count. The Lady Flames' points in the paint and bench points (9) tallies each tied their season low.
Nene Johnson came up with a career-high four of Liberty's 10 steals including her key theft during the final minute. The junior also added a team-high three assists.
Up Next Liberty will take to the road for four of its next five games, beginning Saturday at Presbyterian (8-14, 6-5 Big South). Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. inside the Templeton Center as the Lady Flames seek a regular-season sweep of the Blue Hose. Liberty notched a 68-60 home victory over Presbyterian on Jan. 10 but is just 2-10 away from the Vines Center thus far this season.