The Liberty men's basketball team picked up a key non-conference win, defeating Hampton inside the Vines Center, Saturday night, 74-65.
Liberty's victory over the Pirates is its first at home versus Hampton and ties the all-time series at 2-2. With the victory, the Flames move to 4-8 overall on the season, while Hampton falls to 4-7 on the season.
Jesse Sanders led all scorers with a season-high 22 points, adding nine assists and seven rebounds. David Bruce finished with 20 points and nine rebounds for the Pirates, followed by Mike Tuitt, who added 14 tallies. Liberty's defense held Pirates leading scorer Darrion Pellum, who was averaging 19.4 ppg coming into the game, to a season-low six points.
Both teams started out slow, with Hampton going 2-for-7 and Liberty 1-for-7 from the field during the opening 4:13. Liberty struck first, as Jesse Sanders dished it off to younger brother John Caleb Sanders, who took it to the rack for the early 2-0 lead.
With Liberty still holding a two-point advantage, the Pirates went ahead, 5-4, at 15:47 thanks to a traditional three-point play by Tuitt. The Flames responded to the Pirates lead with an 11-0 run over the next 3:52, receiving baskets from Antwan Burrus, Ethan Layer and Jesse Sanders. The Pirates answered with a six-point burst to cut the Liberty advantage to four, but John Caleb Sanders halted Hampton's surge with a three-pointer to make it 18-11 at 9:09.
The Pirates made it a four-point game at the 5:28 mark courtesy of a Christopher Tolson three-pointer. Following a Speaks jumper to put Liberty back up by six, Hampton answered again with a layup by Bruce to cut it to four again, 24-20, at 4:18.
Hampton stayed within two possessions of the Flames, until a thunderous two-handed jam by Burrus put Liberty ahead by eight at the 1:44 mark. The Flames prevented the Pirates from gaining much traction during the remainder of the period to head to the locker room with a 34-27 lead at halftime.
Liberty shot 39.7 percent from the field in the half, hitting 13-of-33 attempts, while holding Hampton to 35.7 percent shooting (10-of-28).
Bruce paced the Pirates at halftime with nine points. John Caleb Sanders led Liberty with nine points on 3-for-6 shooting from three-point land, followed by Burrus who had eight tallies on 4-of-5 shooting.
Speaks opened the second half with a jumper to extend Liberty's lead, Hampton responded with an 8-0 run to dwindle Liberty's edge to one-point. Jesse Sanders broke up the Pirates momentum with a trey at 15:32, giving the Flames a 39-35 cushion.
A three-point competition ensued with about 14 minutes to play. Making his Liberty debut after being injured for four weeks, Poland native Tomasz Gielo connected from downtown to put the Flames up by seven. Hampton's Jasper Williams nullified the shot with one of his own 21 ticks later, but Gielo countered with a layup at the opposite end. The Pirates leading scorer, Darrion Pellum posted another trey for Hampton with 12:55 left on the clock, but Jesse Sanders returned the favor at the other end with his second three-pointer in three minutes to make it, 49-43.
With Liberty holding a 10-point advantage with less than 10:30 to go, the Pirates battled back to make it a four-point game with 8:39 left. After a free throw by Bruce reduced Liberty's to edge to four, Gielo extended Liberty's advantage to six with a jumper. Tuitt then countered at the opposite end to pull within one possession, 55-52, with 7:44 remaining.
Liberty proceeded to outscore the Pirates, 7-1, over the next 2:54. John Caleb Sanders capped off the burst with a three-pointer at 4:50, giving the Flames a 62-53 lead.
Hampton cut it to seven with less than three minutes remaining but could not climb any closer as the Flames held on for the 74-65 victory.
Liberty shot 57.1 percent (12-of-21) from the field in the second half to finish with 46.3 percent shooting in the contest (25-of-54). The Pirates shot 50.0 percent (12-of-24) during the second period, closing out the night shooting 42.3 percent (22-of-52).
Along with Jesse Sanders' performance, three other Flames finished in double scoring figures – John Caleb Sanders (14), Speaks (12) and Burrus (12). John Caleb Sanders also added a career-high eight boards. Gielo finished with nine points in his debut as a Flame.
Coming into the contest shooting 67.4 percent from the foul line, Liberty went 18-for-18 (100.0 percent) at the charity stripe, finishing perfect from the line for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign, when the Flames went 8-for-8 at Old Dominion (Feb 21, 2009).
Liberty returns to the Vines Center court on Tuesday, playing host to Montreat. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. and the contest will air live on the Liberty Channel.