John Brown finished with a Liberty career-high 23 points in the Flames' 70-61 win over Presbyterian College, Thursday night.
For the second straight season, the Liberty men's basketball team opened its Big South conference slate on a positive note with a win Thursday evening. Despite trailing for three-fourths of the contest, the Flames rallied in the final 10 minutes against Presbyterian College, besting the Blue Hose in the Vines Center, 70-61. With the win, Liberty improves to 5-4 on the season and 1-0 in conference play, while PC falls to 2-5 overall and 0-1 in the Big South. After the Blue Hose jumped out to an early lead with baskets by Jake Troyli and Khalid Mutakabbir, Jesse Sanders hit a jumper from the foul line to make it 6-2 at 17:10. Both teams began trading baskets over the ensuing minutes. With the Blue Hose holding a four-point edge, Joel Vander Pol dissected the deficit at the foul line, nailing a pair of free throws to cut it to two, 10-8, at 15:01. PC created some distance thanks to a keen eye by Al'Lonzo Coleman and sharpshooting by Mutakabbir. With the guard left open in the left corner, Coleman dished it to the high percentage shooting guard, who proceeded to drain a three-pointer. Mutakabbir's trey gave the Blue Hose a 17-10 advantage at 12:50. Liberty answered the challenge, scoring five unanswered points to close within two. Following a Jesse Sanders layup, younger brother John Caleb Sanders sank a three of his own after receiving the pass from his older sibling to make it 17-15 with 11:02 remaining in the half. The Blue Hose once again distanced themselves from the Flames, going on an 8-0 run to take a double digit lead, 25-15. John Caleb once again came through from behind the three-point arc, knocking down another long-range jumper to cut it back to seven, 25-18, at 7:51. After the Blue Hose led by as much as nine in the closing minutes of the half, Liberty narrowed the gap with 1:10 left in the period with two made foul shots by John Brown. The pair of free throws gave PC a two-point cushion, 29-27. Troyli christened the Blue Hose scoring in the first half, hitting a jumper with 49 seconds left to give the visiting team a 31-27 advantage heading into the locker room. Mutakabbir led all scorers at the half with nine points. Three Flames finished the opening stanza with six points apiece – Jesse and John Caleb Sanders, as well as Brown. PC shot 55.6 percent (15-of-27) from the field in the first half, while holding the Flames to 30.3 percent (10-of-33). In the second half, Troyli picked up where he left off, knocking down a three-point shot in the opening 30 seconds to make it 34-27, Blue Hose. Much like the first half, Liberty answered over the next 2:08, slicing the PC lead to a pair, 35-33, thanks to a jumper from Brown. Following the basket, the Blue Hose proceeded to go on a 7-0 run to widen the gap, 42-33, at 15:18. Brown halted the burst at 12:37, spinning underneath the basket to lay it in. Jesse Sanders also found room to maneuver inside on the next Flames possession, netting a layup of his own to make it a five-point game, 42-37. With PC still holding a five-point advantage, John Caleb Sanders ignited the Liberty crowd at 11:40, putting down another three-pointer to once again cut it to two, 44-42. Liberty knotted the contest at 44-all at 11:04, as Gordon threw up a short range jump shot. With the ball on its way down, Josh Clyburn swatted at the shot and was called for goaltending. The Flames took the lead for the first time in the contest 27 seconds later. Antwan Burrus hit one-of-two at the charity stripe to give Liberty a one-point advantage, putting the Flames up, 45-44. PC regained the lead with 10:05 remaining in the contest, but the advantage was short-lived due to a traditional three-point play that put Liberty ahead, 47-46. The Flames began to create a bulge of their own down the stretch. Following Gordon's basket, Liberty outscored the Blue Hose, 10-3, over the next 3:26 off baskets from David Minaya, John Caleb Sanders, Brown and free throws from Chene Phillips. With 2:43 remaining in the contest, Jesse Sanders excited the crowd with a rare two-handed jam, giving Liberty a nine-point lead, 62-53. PC pulled within five with 41 seconds left, but failed to climb any closer, as Liberty hung on for the 70-61 decision. Brown led all scorers with 23 points and 13 rebounds for his league-leading fifth double-double. Troyli was PC's leading scorer with 17, followed closely by Mutakabbir with 16. Jesse Sanders finished with 14 points for the Flames, followed by brother John Caleb Sanders, who chipped in 11 off the bench. Liberty shot 57.1 percent (16-of-28) from the floor in the second half to finish at 42.6 percent (26-of-61) for the contest, while knocking down 10-of-12 (83.3 percent) foul shots. PC hit 26-of-51 shots (51.0 percent) from the field and went 4-of-7 (57.1 percent) from the foul line on the night. The Blue Hose head to Lexington, Va., on Saturday to square off against VMI. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. The Flames remain in the Vines Center on Saturday, playing host to defending conference champion Winthrop. Game time is slated for 7 p.m.