The Liberty men's basketball team came up short in try to be the third team to knock off a top four seed on the day, falling to No. 4 Charleston Southern in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Advance Auto Parts Big South Men's Basketball Championship, 88-74. After trailing early in the first half by as many as 17 points, the Flames rallied to come within two points of the Buccaneers on several occasions throughout the second half, but were unable to gain an advantage down the stretch. Liberty concludes its season with a 14-18 record (9-9 Big South), while Charleston Southern advances to the semifinals to take on No. 1 UNC Asheville. Saah Nimley led the Buccaneers with 19 points, followed by Kelvin Martin and Arlon Harper who finished with 18 apiece. Jesse Sanders finished the contest with 14 points and a game-high eight rebounds and seven assists for Liberty. Sanders concludes his four-year career as a Flame with 1,235 points (15th in Liberty history), 815 rebounds (5th) and 727 assists (1st). David Minaya posted 17 points to conclude his career at Liberty with 795 points (29th in Liberty history). Antwan Burrus and John Caleb Sanders rounded out Liberty's double-digit scorers with 14 and 11 points, respectively. Charleston Southern concluded the contest shooting 50.0 percent (31-of-62), including 45.5 percent (10-of-22) from three-point range. Liberty ended the night on 45.9 percent shooting (28-of-61), outscoring the Buccaneers in the paint, 34-24. Three-pointers made the difference with Charleston Southern outpointing Liberty from long range, 30-18. The Buccaneers came out the gate with a 13-2 run during the opening 3:40. Mathiang Muo kick started the Charleston Southern offense with a three-pointer. After a Minaya basket, the No. 4 seed Buccaneers began to find their rhythm, getting buckets from Paul Gombwer, Martin and Nimley. A three-pointer by Nimely gave Chalreston Southern a 10-point lead. After Martin tacked on a free throw, the Flames responded with layups from Burrus and Minaya to make it, 13-6, at 15:09. Liberty was held scoreless from the field over the next 3:03, allowing Charleston Southern to create a 12-2 burst. Nimley initiated the run with another three-pointer. Jeremy Sexton followed up with a trey of his own, while Strickland posted four points on fast break baskets. John Caleb Sanders doused the Buccaneers hot streak with a trey at 12:06 to put Liberty within 14, 25-11. A third Nimley three-ball followed by a fast break dunk by Martin gave the Buccaneers a 17-point lead. At the 7:20 mark, Liberty's freshmen began to light up the board, beginning with an Ethan Layer trey. An Andrew Smith layup 57 ticks later put Liberty back within 14 points, but Strickland answered on the other end with a three-pointer to make it, 39-22, with 5:52 remaining. Liberty closed out the half with a 13-2 run, receiving baskets from five different Flames. Jesse Sanders highlighted the span with a bucket from behind the arc, while Liberty also received buckets from Smith, Speaks, John Caleb Sanders and Joel Vander Pol during the burst. Vander Pol's bucket capped the scoring to make it 41-35, Bucs at halftime. Nimley led all scorers at the half with 13 points, followed by Martin with eight. Minaya paced the Flames offense in the first period with seven points. The Flames continued their surge during the early moments of the second half, outscoring the Buccaneers, 7-3. Burrus opened the half with a layup. After a traditional three-point play from Arlon Harper, Jesse Sanders countered with one of his own at the other end. Burrus followed up with another bucket to put Liberty within two points. However, Nimley prevented the Flames from knotting the contest, connecting on a three-pointer at 16:11 to give the Buccaneers a five-point cushion, 47-42. Liberty continued to stay on the heels of Charleston Southern. The Flames cut their deficit back to two points at 14:51, but an Arlon Harper three-pointer created another five-point cushion. John Caleb Sanders countered Harper's trey with one of his own to make it a one possession ball game again at 13:50. The Buccaneers then went on an 8-0 run to take a 10-point lead with 12:10 remaining. Liberty responded with an eight-point burst of its own capped by a Tavares Speaks jumper to pull within two, 58-56, with 9:03 left. Charleston Southern went back up by five under the eight-minute mark, but a Minaya trey continued the roller coaster trend, cutting it to two with 7:15 remaining. Unfortunately for the Flames, they were unable to climb any closer. The Buccaneers pulled away in the final minutes of the half, leading by as much as 15 points, en route to the 88-74 victory. Charleston Southern Head Coach Barclay Radebaugh
"First off I want to really congratulate my team for their effort. To lose a big lead and to battle back shows a lot about their effort and their character. I also want to congratulate Liberty on their effort and particularly Jesse Sanders. He is one of the best players in the history of the Big South and it was an honor to play against him tonight and for four years. We are very happy about the win. It was a great effort by our guys and our coaches."
Liberty Head Coach Dale Layer
"I thought in tonight's game Charleston Southern was the better team. They didn't play harder than us or fight harder than us, they were just better than us. We have had three really tough games with Charleston Southern this year and tonight they made some big plays. Every time we made a run they made a big shot. I have no regrets with this team. I am proud of them in every shape and form."