Jesse Sanders (right) posted 19 points in Liberty's game against Winthrop, surpassing 800 points for his Liberty career. He now has 814 points as a Flame.
The Liberty men's basketball team suffered its third straight loss for the first time this season, Thursday night, falling to the Winthrop Eagles inside the Winthrop Coliseum, 61-56.
With the defeat, Liberty falls to 19-11 overall and 13-4 in Big South play. The Eagles improve to 13-15 on the season and 9-8 in conference action. Liberty has now lost eight consecutive contests inside the Winthrop Coliseum. The last time Liberty won in the facility was on Feb. 18, 2004, when the Flames defeated the Eagles, 74-62.
Due to High Point falling to UNC Asheville tonight, 76-62, the Flames will host the Panthers in the 2011 Advance Auto Parts Big South Championship quarterfinals on March 1. Liberty lit up the scoreboard first, when John Brown found Evan Gordon underneath for the layup and the early lead. Winthrop responded with four-straight points, but Jesse Sanders knotted the contest with another layup. After two free throws at the other end, Gordon tied the contest again, 6-6, with a finger roll in front of the basket at 13:19.
Winthrop responded with another four point burst. Gordan then cut the deficit to one with a trey. Following a Matt Morgan basket, Brown hit a jumper just before the shot clock buzzer to make it a one-point game again. The Eagles answered with a 6-0 spurt to take a seven-point advantage to seven, 18-11, at 6:55.
The Flames chipped at the Winthrop lead thanks to baskets by Sommy Ogukwe and David Minaya. The Eagles countered with a three-pointer by Reggie Middleton and a Joab Jerome layup to widen the gap to eight. Brown made it a six-point game with a layup, but Middleton gave the Eagles an eight-point cushion again at 2:07, connecting on a fast break layup to make it 25-17.
In the closing minutes of the first period, the Flames got within five points of the Eagles thanks to a Brown layup and a Chene Phillips free throw. However, the home team closed out the period with a Charles Corbin jumper to take a 29-22 lead at halftime.
Gordon led the Flames with seven points at half's end, followed by Brown, who chipped in six. Middleton was the contest's leading scorer at halftime, finishing with 10 tallies.
Liberty concluded the first half shooting 45.0 percent, hitting 9-of-20 from the field. The Eagles connected on 11-of-27 (40.7 percent) attempts in the opening period. Winthrop outscored Liberty 9-1 off turnovers The Eagles' bench also outpointed the Flames, 13-3.
In the second half, Liberty cut it to five courtesy a Joel Vander Pol tip-in. After a four-point burst by the Eagles, Liberty countered with one of its own off baskets by Sanders and Burrus to make it 33-28 at 14:45.
Winthrop took a nine-point lead with 11:28 remaining in the contest thanks to a three-pointer by Andre Jones. The Flames then reeled off seven points with baskets from Jesse Sanders, John Caleb Sanders and Burrus to cut it to two points, 41-39, with 9:50 left on the clock.
Winthrop expanded its cushion to six with four-straight points. The Flames then went on another 7-0 run to take the lead for the first time in the contest at 4:52. Minaya put the Flames on top with a jumper to give the visitors a 46-45 edge.
After two ties in the next 49 ticks, Jesse Sanders put the Flames ahead once again 1:09 later with a three-pointer at 2:54. Sanders then tacked on two more tallies at the charity stripe to give the Flames a three-point lead. Winthrop then received four-straight points from Jones to regain a one-point advantage. Sanders reclaimed the lead for Liberty with 1:09 left, sinking two more free throws to make it 55-54.
Corbin knocked down a jumper 22 seconds later to put the Eagles on top for good. A costly turnover in the final 35 seconds and some key free throws down the stretch prevented the Flames from regaining the lead, allowing Winthrop to hang on for the 61-56 final.
Jesse Sanders led all scorers with 19 points, while Gordon added 11 for the Flames. Four Eagles finished in double scoring figures – Corbin (11), Middleton (10), Robbie Dreher (10) and Morgan (10). Corbin concluded the contest with a double-double, adding 10 rebounds to his scoring effort.
For the second straight contest, Liberty shot below 45 percent from the free throw line, hitting 10-of-23 shots (43.5 percent) from the charity stripe.
The Flames shot 45.8 percent from the field (22-of-48), while the Eagles finished with 39.6 percent shooting (16-of-25). Liberty outscored Winthrop in the paint 32-28, but the Flames were bested in points off turnovers, 18-3.
The Eagles wrap up the regular season in the Winthrop Coliseum on Saturday, playing host to VMI at 7 p.m.
The Flames head to Clinton, S.C., to take on Presbyterian College in the regular-season finale. Tipoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.