Hosting UNC Wilmington for the first time in program history, the Liberty men's basketball team suffered its seventh consecutive setback, falling to the Seahawks, Tuesday night, 77-68, inside the Vines Center.
With the defeat, the Flames fall to 2-8 on the year. UNCW moves to 2-5 overall and 2-0 in the all-time series versus Liberty. The Flames record marks the first time Liberty has started a season 2-8 since the 2004-05 campaign.
Keith Rendleman blazed the trail for the Seahawks with 29 points, followed by Adam Smith who finished with 18. Jesse Sanders recorded his third double-double of the season, posting 19 points and a season-high 13 rebounds, while adding seven assists. Tavares Speaks and David Minaya concluded the contest as Liberty's other two double-digit scorers, chipping in 16 and 11 points, respectively.
The Flames struck first in the contest thanks to a traditional three-point play by Speaks. UNC Wilmington knotted the contest with a Smith trey, but Jesse Sanders helped give the Flames a four-point lead off two free throws and a fast break layup after a quick steal. Sanders' four-point burst put Liberty ahead, 7-3, at 18:16.
Liberty remained on top until the 15:23 mark, when a second Smith three-pointer gave the Seahawks a 10-9 advantage. With the visitors holding a four-point lead nearly four minutes later, Ethan Layer knocked down a three-pointer to put the Flames within one, 15-14, at 11:23.
The Seahawks outscored the Flames, 9-2, over the next 3:53. Liberty's only basket during the span came on a layup from the Flames' newest addition Walt Aikens, who joined the team on Monday. UNC Wilmington stretched its lead to eight points with the run, which was capped by Smith's third three-pointer, making it 24-16, at 7:30.
Liberty responded during the ensuing 2:15 with seven unanswered points, cutting the Seahawks' lead to one again at 5:15. During the stretch, the Flames received buckets from Antwan Burrus, John Caleb Sanders and Speaks. Rendleman broke up the hot streak with a layup at 4:55, giving the Seahawks a 26-23 cushion.
UNC Wilmington extended its advantage to nine before the end of the half, but two Burrus jumpers including one just before the buzzer, trimmed the Flames deficit to 36-31 at halftime.
Liberty shot just 50 percent in the first half for the second straight contest, hitting 13-of-27 shots (48.1 percent) from the field. The Seahawks knocked down 16-of-40 shots in the opening stanza. At half's end, UNC Wilmington held the advantage in the paint (18-16) and on second chance points (8-2), but the Flames outscored the Seahawks off the fast break (4-0) and the bench (10-4).
Coming into the game as UNCW's second-leading scorer at 12.7 ppg, Rendleman led the Seahawks at halftime with 13 points. Smith finished the half with 11. Burrus and Jesse Sanders paced the Flames with six in the opening 20 minutes.
David Minaya kicked off the second half with a jumper that put the Flames within three points of the Seahawks. UNCW increased the bulge to seven at 17:11, courtesy of another Smith three-pointer. The Flames answered with five straight points over the next 58 ticks to dwindle the deficit. Jesse Sanders sealed the jolt with a layup, putting the Flames within two, 41-39, at 16:13.
The Seahawks continued the roller coaster trend, regaining a seven-point lead at the 12:22 mark. Liberty cut it to five, 55-50, with less than eight minutes to play thanks to a pair of Jesse Sanders free throws. Unfortunately, the Flames were unable to climb any closer down the stretch.
With UNC Wilmington holding a 15-point lead, Jesse Sanders helped the Flames climb within 10 with five straight points off a trey and a fast layup at 2:04. Minaya made it a nine-point game in the final minute, but the Flames could not inch any closer, dropping a 77-68 decision.
The Seahawks ended the night shooting 46.3 percent from the field, hitting 31-of-67 shots. Liberty knocked down 26-of-61 shots (42.6 percent). UNCW edged Liberty in the paint, 36-32.
Liberty returns to the Vines Center this Saturday, playing host to Virginia Intermont. Game time is slated for 7 p.m.