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Defense Leads Liberty Past North Florida, Into ASUN Title Game

March 13, 2019  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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No. 3 seed Liberty held No. 5 seed North Florida to 22 second-half points, pulling away late for a 65-51 victory in the 2019 ASUN Women's Basketball Championship semifinals, Wednesday at the Vines Center. Four Lady Flames scored in double figures as Liberty advanced to its 20th conference tournament title game in 23 seasons but its first as a member of the ASUN Conference.

Liberty (16-15) held North Florida without a made field goal for a 9:36 stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters, outscoring the Ospreys 16-2 to break the game open. Winners of five straight games, the Lady Flames become the first ASUN newcomer to reach the title game in their inaugural season since Lipscomb in 2004. Liberty will travel to No. 1 seed FGCU (27-4) for the championship game Sunday at 3 p.m. at Alico Arena in Fort Myers, Fla.

The Ospreys' season comes to an end at 15-14 after their four-game winning streak was halted. North Florida shot just 35.3 percent (18-of-51) from the field and committed 20 turnovers which led to 28 Liberty points.

Box Score Highlights
Liberty Individuals: Emily Lytle – 18 points, 4-8 3FG, 3 steals; Kierra Johnson-Graham – 14 points, 6-6 FT, 6 rebounds; Ria Gulley – 10 points, 5 assists, 3 steals; Ashtyn Baker – 10 points, 3 assists; Bridgette Rettstatt – 5 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals.

North Florida Individuals: Adrienne Jackson – 16 points (all in the first half), 3-7 3FG, 5 rebounds; Jazz Bond – 14 points, 5 rebounds, 5 blocks; Ty Purifoy – 13 points, 9 assists, 4 steals.

Key Team Stats: Liberty outrebounded its 12th straight opponent (41-31) and outscored North Florida in the paint (28-16). The Lady Flames shot 94.7 percent (18-of-19) from the foul line, tying the program single-game record set against UMBC on March 5, 1994. The Lady Flames' 15 turnovers were their fewest in a game since a 15-turnover performance at Lipscomb on Jan. 29.

Turning Point
Jazz Bond's layup 1:37 into the third quarter gave North Florida a 33-31 edge. That proved to be the Ospreys' final lead as Liberty responded with a 12-2 run featuring a pair of Emily Lytle three-pointers.

A Bridgette Rettstatt layup with 3:16 to play in the period extended the Lady Flames' advantage to 43-35, closing out the surge.

Shortly thereafter, Liberty kept North Florida from making a field goal for the aforementioned 9:36 span, sealing the victory.

Game Summary
First Quarter
• North Florida made only one of its first nine field goal attempts, allowing Liberty to build an early 12-5 advantage.

• Adrienne Jackson then tallied eight points during the visitors' 10-2 run to end the period, including a buzzer-beating jumper which gave the Ospreys their first lead of the game (15-14).

Second Quarter
• Liberty scored the second quarter's first six points, including back-to-back hoops off UNF turnovers, taking a 20-15 edge on Bridgette Rettstatt's layup at 7:51.

• The Ospreys immediately answered with a 9-0 burst, building a 24-20 lead when Jazz Bond converted a three-point play 5:02 before halftime.

• North Florida remained on top for all but 45 seconds from that point until halftime, knotting the score at 29-all on Dasha Eremeeva's hoop from close range just before the final buzzer sounded.

• The Ospreys' Adrienne Jackson paced all players with 16 first-half points. Meanwhile, Liberty scored 18 points in the paint to North Florida's six during the first 20 minutes.

Third Quarter
• Emily Lytle nailed a pair of three-pointers during a 12-2 Liberty run which culminated in Bridgette Rettstatt's layup at the 3:16 mark. Her hoop pushed the home team's lead to 43-35, and the Lady Flames took a seven-point (44-37) cushion to the final period.

• Liberty limited the Ospreys to eight points during the third quarter and forced five turnovers.

Fourth Quarter
• The Lady Flames continued their stellar defense into the fourth quarter, holding the Ospreys without a point for the first 6:05 and without a made field goal for the first 7:30.

• Liberty began the fourth period with a 15-2 run, taking its largest lead of the night (59-39) on Emily Lytle's layup with 2:44 remaining.

• The Lady Flames closed the door on North Florida's comeback hopes by sinking all 12 of their free throw attempts during the final 10 minutes.

Head Coach Carey Green Quotes
"We are playing for a championship, and I think every team in the conference wants to do that, so we are certainly grateful. As far as today's game, our hats go off to the effort that North Florida gave tonight. I feel like the difference was our defensive intensity and effort in the third and fourth quarters. We made a few more shots and were really good on the free throw line. We really shared the ball, and had four girls in double figures.  I certainly believe that that balance and our defensive effort got us where we want to be, and that is in the championship game."

Notes and Nuggets
• Emily Lytle's game-high 18 points were more than she had scored during her previous three games combined (15).

• Lytle's four three-pointers give the redshirt sophomore 62 triples during her first season as a Lady Flame. That ranks third in program history, just two behind Cynthia Thomson's record of 64 from the 1989-90 season.

• Kierra Johnson-Graham's 14 points were her most since tallying a career-high 20 points at Lipscomb on Jan. 29.

• Ria Gulley has now dished out five assists in each of the last three games.

• Ashtyn Baker has scored in double figures in back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 4 at ETSU and Dec. 13 at East Carolina.

• With her six points on Wednesday, KK Barbour moved into 20th place on Liberty's all-time scoring list with 823 career markers.

• Liberty has matched its longest winning streak of the season at five games and avenged its most recent defeat, a 66-54 setback at North Florida on Feb. 23.

• The Lady Flames recorded their 300th all-time victory at the Vines Center, which opened in 1990. Liberty is 300-78 at its home facility, including 9-5 this season and 22-1 in conference tournament games.

• The Lady Flames have followed the same ASUN Championship path as their men's basketball counterparts, beginning with home wins over Jacksonville (quarterfinals) and North Florida (semifinals). Now, like the Liberty men's team, the Lady Flames will have to go on the road and attempt to defeat the No. 1 seed and defending conference champion on its home court.

• The Lady Flames are the first No. 3 seed to reach the ASUN title game since Northern Kentucky in 2015.

• Liberty is 71-24 under Carey Green when playing in March, including 4-0 this season.

Up Next
Liberty will travel to Fort Myers, Fla., for the 2019 ASUN Women's Basketball Championship title game at No. 1 seed FGCU (27-4). Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. inside Alico Arena, which will serve as the championship game venue for the fifth time in the last six years.

The two-time defending conference champion Eagles defeated the Lady Flames twice during the regular season. FGCU posted a 68-50 home win over Liberty on Jan. 5 in the Lady Flames' ASUN debut. The Eagles then held off Liberty 65-64 at the Vines Center on Feb. 9.

Date: Sunday, March 17, 2019
Location: Fort Myers, Fla. (Alico Arena)
Tipoff: 3 p.m.
Radio: LFSN Radio (90.9 FM The Light Lynchburg)