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Liberty Falls to No. 1 Seed Bulldogs

March 6, 2008  Asheville, N.C.  RSS
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Alex McLean is fouled by John Williams early in the game on Thursday. McLean made the bucket and the free throw, completing the three-point play.

Alex McLean is fouled by John Williams early in the game on Thursday. McLean made the bucket and the free throw, completing the three-point play.

Liberty seniors Alex McLean and TeeJay Bannister valiantly tried to prolong the Flames' season, but the No. 1-seeded UNC Asheville Bulldogs crushed the duo's hopes with their 75-57 triumph, Thursday night, inside the Justice Center.

The Bulldogs (23-8) advance to the championship game of the Advance Auto Parts Big South Championship on Saturday against the No. 2 seed and three-time defending conference champion, Winthrop. The game will tip-off at 11:30 a.m. at the Justice Center, on ESPN2.

Liberty finishes the season with a 16-16 mark. With the 16 victories, Ritchie McKay became the first coach ever to reach the 16-win plateau in his inaugural season with the Flames men's basketball program.

Liberty quickly opened the game on an Anthony Smith dunk 12 seconds into the contest, giving the Flames an early 2-0 lead. After a Vincent James bucket tied the game at two apiece, Liberty went back to work

A TeeJay Bannister trey at 13:40 capped a 14-7 run, giving Liberty a 16-9 lead. The Bulldogs grabbed their first lead of the contest at 4:46, courtesy of a 15-10 run, giving UNC Asheville a 24-23 advantage. A James basket capped the Bulldog jaunt.

McLean tallied a bucket then hit two free throws at 3:14, helping Liberty retake the lead, 27-24. The Flames failed to score the remainder of the half, however, and UNC Asheville went into the intermission on a 9-0 run, taking a 33-27 lead with them. A K.J. Garland trey, followed by four-straight Kenny George markers, set up Reid Augst's first field goal of the half, capping the run.

Liberty connected on 37.5 percent (9-of-24) from the floor, including 28.6 percent (4-of-14) from three-point range, during the first half. Meanwhile, UNC Asheville hit 56.5 percent (13-of-23) from the floor, including 33.3 percent (2-of-6) from three-point range.

A Kyle Ohman trey at 16:25 tied the game at 37-all, finishing off a 10-4 Liberty run to start the second stanza. Liberty then retook the lead, 43-42, when Anthony Smith tallied a bucket at 14:45.

The Bulldogs stormed out to a 57-46 lead, courtesy of a 15-3 surge, capped by a John Williams basket off a Bryan Smithson pass at 9:14.

Two free throws by Bannister at 4:29 brought the Liberty deficit down to five points, 60-55, but that would be as close as the Flames would get. UNC Asheville closed out the game on a 15-2 run, sealing the 75-57 victory and a championship showdown with Winthrop.

Liberty finished the game shooting 36.5 percent (19-of-52) from the floor, including 30.0 percent (9-of-30) from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs shot an astounding 66.7 percent (12-of-18) from the floor in the second stanza, en route to hitting at a 61.0 percent (25-of-41) clip for the game. UNC Asheville also connected on 45.5 percent (5-of-11) of its three-point attempts.

McLean led all Flame scorers with 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting, in his final game in a Liberty uniform. Fellow senior Bannister tallied 13 points and dished out five assists in a losing effort.

UNC Asheville was led by Kenny George and his 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting. George completed a double-double with a game-high 11 rebounds. Bryan Smithson equaled George's offensive output with 19 points of his own, while K.J. Garland chipped in 17 points in the win.