Evan Gordon had a career-high night in Liberty's 75-72 win over defending Big South champion, finishing with 26 points, five rebounds, five assists and five steals. Liberty is now 2-0 in the Big South for the first time in program history.
Thanks in part to a career night by Evan Gordon, the Liberty men's basketball team made history Saturday night with its 75-72 victory over defending Big South champion Winthrop inside the Vines Center. For the first time in program history, the 6-4 Flames start the conference season with a 2-0 record. Winthrop falls to 4-4 on the season and 1-1 in the Big South. Gordon posted a career-high 26 points and five steals, while also chipping in seven rebounds and five assists. The Indianapolis native's performance marks the first time a Liberty player has posted at least 20 points, five rebounds, five assists and five steals since Seth Curry accomplished the feat in his Liberty debut against Montreat on Nov. 14, 2008. After both teams traded baskets in the opening minutes, Winthrop's Andre Jones knocked down a three-pointer to break up the stalemate and give the Eagles a 7-4 edge at 16:48. Just over one minute later, Antwan Burrus connected with a layup to cut the Winthrop lead to one. The Eagles responded by scoring four-unanswered points to take an 11-6 advantage at 14:50. Liberty countered with a burst of its own, going on an 8-0 run thanks to a John Brown layup, an Evan Gordon three-pointer and free throws from Jesse Sanders and Gordon. The Flames eight-point swing gave the home team a 14-11 cushion with 12:30 remaining in the period. Robbie Dreher made it a one-point game, 45 seconds later, escaping the Liberty defense and executing a tomahawk jam. With the Eagles playing solid defense on the other end, John Caleb Sanders heaved up a three-point attempt, finding nylon just as the shot clock buzzer sounded, increasing the Liberty lead to 17-13 at 11:07. Joel Vander Pol added to the Flames bulge 32 seconds later, putting up a layup to give Liberty its largest advantage of the half, 19-13. With three points separating the two teams under 10 minute mark, Gordon reclaimed the six-point edge for the Flames knocking down a three-pointer to make it 22-16 at 7:45. Winthrop remained within one to two possessions of the Flames over the next three-plus minutes. Dreher knotted the contest with 3:10 remaining, sinking a trey to tie it at 30. The Eagles regained the lead at 1:54, thanks to a Jones jumper that made it 33-32. Dreher closed out the half, knocking down another three-pointer to give the Eagles a 36-32 lead at halftime. Dreher led all scorers at halftime with 16 points, followed by Jones who finished the period with 11. Gordon was the Flames' leading scorer in opening stanza with eight tallies. At the end of the period, the Eagles held a slight shooting advantage over the Flames. Winthrop hit 11-of-29 (37.9 percent) shots from field in the first half, while Liberty hit 12-of 33 (36.4 percent). The Eagles capitalized on fast breaks in the first half, outscoring the Flames 7-0 on breakaways. Winthrop looked to start the second half the same way the first period ended for the visitors. In the opening minutes of the stanza, Jones singlehandedly put up five-straight points with a layup and a three-point jumper, widening the Winthrop gap to nine, 41-32, at 18:39. With Winthrop leading by just under the 17-minute mark, Gordon cut it to five, hitting a three-point basket to make it 43-38. Liberty continued to chip away at the Eagles' advantage thanks to its sharp shooting. David Minaya pulled the Flames within four, 50-46, hitting a three-pointer at the top of the key. Just over a minute later, Gordon sunk another three-pointer to make it a single possession game, 54-51. After a Gordon jumper cut Winthrop's lead to one, Joel Vander Pol tied the contest at 54, hitting one of two shots at the charity stripe. Gordon then gave Liberty the lead with 11:24 left in the contest, nailing another jumper to put the Flames up, 56-54. Winthrop stayed on the Flames heels over the next 3:18, tying the contest two more times during the span. Knotted at 59, John Brown followed up a missed jumper, tipping it in at 8:06, to put the Flames back on top, 61-59. After Liberty added to its lead with a coast-to-coast layup by Jesse Sanders, Winthrop's answered with a three-pointer on the other end to cut it to one, 63-62, at 5:55. Winthrop took a brief lead at 4:55 off a Jones jumper. Jesse Sanders turned the tide at the other end 23 seconds later, capitalizing on a traditional three-point play to make it 66-64. Gordon enlarged the Liberty lead at 3:36, jacking up another three-pointer to give the Flames five-point edge. The Eagles fired back, scoring six unanswered points thanks to baskets by Dreher and Middleton to give the Eagles a 70-69 advantage with 56 seconds on the clock. Twelve seconds later, Minaya hit a clutch jumper on the far side to put Liberty back in the lead, 71-70. With under 30 seconds left on the clock, Gordon picked the pocket of Middleton and drove to the hoop for a layup to give the Flames a three-point advantage. In the final six seconds Winthrop cut it to one with free throws but was forced to foul Evan Gordon, who answered with two of his own at the other end to secure the 75-72 final. Jones finished the contest as Winthrop's leading scorer with 23 points, followed closely by Dreher who had 21. Along with Gordon's big night, Jesse Sanders concluded the contest with a near triple-double, posting 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Brown also finished with a near double-double, chipping in 10 tallies and eight points. Winthrop hit 24-of-55 (43.6 percent) from the field, while Liberty hit 25-of-60 (41.7 percent) on the night. The squads nearly mirrored each other from behind the three-point arc, knocking down seven shots apiece from downtown. Winthrop will stay on the road on Tuesday to take on Charlotte. Game time is slated for 7:30 p.m. The Flames remain in the Vines Center next Saturday, playing host to CAA member George Mason. Tipoff with the Patriots is set for 7 p.m.