Liberty trailed Valparaiso 35-34 midway through the third quarter of Saturday afternoon's contest at the Vines Center, before turning things around with a 22-1 run. Sparked by stifling defense and impressive second-half foul shooting, the Lady Flames came away with a 61-40 victory.
Liberty's (3-4) first-ever win over Valparaiso and initial triumph over a Missouri Valley Conference foe saw the Lady Flames hold the Crusaders to one made field goal over the final 16:50. Liberty also converted 26 Valparaiso turnovers into 26 points for the game and hit its first 16 free throws to start the second half.
The Lady Flames were led by the trio of Kierra Johnson-Graham (career high-equaling 13 points, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks, two steals), Ashtyn Baker (career-high 11 points, three steals) and Ola Makurat (eight points, season-high nine rebounds, 6-6 FT).
Valparaiso (2-3) fell to 0-3 on the road this season, as the Crusaders were held to 13 second-half points. The Crusaders shot just 31.4 percent (11-of-35) from the field and 48 percent (12-of-25) from the foul line on the day, falling well shy of their 76.5 ppg scoring average.
Grace Hales made all four of her three-pointers during a career-high 14-point outburst for Valparaiso. However, the Lady Flames limited Dani Franklin to four points. She came into the contest averaging 18.8 ppg for the season and went for 29 points during last season's 70-68 win over Liberty.
Valparaiso hit three straight triples during the opening quarter, including a pair by Hales. Hales' second long-distance connection, coming at the 3:52 mark, gave the bright gold-clad Crusaders an early 13-5 advantage.
Liberty held Valparaiso scoreless for the remainder of the first 10 minutes, cutting its deficit to 13-11 in the process. Johnson-Graham (five points, two assists) and Bridgette Rettstatt (four points, three rebounds) were the Lady Flames' first quarter leaders.
The Lady Flames outscored the Crusaders, 7-2, to start the second quarter, extending their overall run to 13-2. KK Barbour's three-pointer from the left wing punctuated the extended surge, giving Liberty an 18-15 edge with 7:40 to play before halftime.
The lead changed hands three times during the latter stages of the half, before Valparaiso took a 27-26 edge into the break.
The Crusaders shot 5-of-8 from three-point range in the first half, highlighted by a trio from Hales, while Liberty was just 1-of-11.
The Lady Flames had the first-half edge in rebounds (18-16) and points in the paint (12-4), but shot only 50 percent (5-of-10) from the foul line.
Hales' fourth three-pointer of the game swished through the net at 6:51 of the third quarter, extending Valparaiso's lead to 34-30. That turned out to be the Crusaders' final made field goal of the period, as Liberty closed the stanza with a 10-1 run to claim a 40-35 lead.
The Lady Flames made their living at the foul line during the third quarter, going 10-of-10 for the period.
Liberty scored 16 of the fourth quarter's first 17 points, including five apiece by Keyen Green and Baker. Baker split a pair of free throws to close out Liberty's 22-1 surge with the Lady Flames leading 56-36 and just 2:46 remaining to play.
The Lady Flames went on to close out a 61-40 victory, marking the team's second home win in five days, both of which saw Liberty's opponents score 40 points or fewer.
Liberty did not have its best offensive showing, making just 33.3 percent (18-of-54) from the field, including only 5.3 percent (1-of-19) from downtown. But the Lady Flames finished at 72.7 percent (24-of-33) at the foul line, including 82.6 percent (19-of-23) after halftime.
Liberty won the rebounding battle, 39-33, converting 17 offensive boards into 19 second-chance points.
Valparaiso had not committed more than 14 turnovers during any of its first four games of the season before Saturday's 26 miscues.
Makurat's 6-of-6 showing at the foul line makes the sophomore 13-of-13 this season and gives her 25 straight made free throws, dating back to her freshman year. The program record is 26 made free throws in a row by Jaymee Fisher-Davis, spanning March 10, 2013-March 7, 2015.
Rettstatt matched her career high of seven points and pulled down a career-best seven rebounds for the Lady Flames.
After missing the previous two games with an ankle injury, Green returned to contribute five points in five second-half minutes.
The game featured numerous personal connections, as Ferris State Head Coach Tracey Dorow is the sister of Liberty Assistant Coach Andrea "Andy" Bloodworth. Former Liberty standout Megan (Frazee) Leuzinger is also in her second year as an assistant on Dorow's staff.
Up Next Liberty will take to the road to face Commonwealth rival James Madison (2-4) on Wednesday. The 11th matchup between the Lady Flames and Dukes in the last 12 seasons is slated for 7 p.m. at the JMU Convocation Center in Harrisonburg, Va.