Big South Championship: Liberty sweep NCAA bids

The No. 5 North seed Liberty Flames continued its incredible run through the VisitMyrtleBeach.com Big South Conference Basketball Tournament with Sunday’s 87-76 upset victory over top-seeded South Charleston Southern at the HTC Center in Conway.

The Flames (15-20) won their fourth game in as many days at the Big South Tournament to claim the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Liberty, which started the season 0-8, is only the second team in the history of the NCAA Tournament to earn a berth with 20 losses.

Liberty defeated tournament host Coastal Carolina 86-71 on Monday,  edged High Point, the No. 1 seed from the North, 61-60 on Wednesday, and upset No. 2 South Gardner-Webb 65-62 on Friday. The Flames capped the late-season surge by beating the Buccaneers (19-12), leading the majority of the game and pulling away in the final minutes.

Liberty’s John Caleb Sanders scored a game-high 27 points and Davon Marshall scored 20 as the duo combined to hit 8 of 12 3-point attempts. Tavares Speaks added 18 points as the Flames outrebounded the Bucs 38-29.

Charleston Southern had five players score in double figures, led by Saah Nimley’s 18 points and Jeremy Sexton’s 17. Arlon Harper scored 14 despite foul trouble, Mathiang Muo talied 12 and Sheldon Strickland came off the bench for 10 points.

Liberty will learn its NCAA Tournament fate next weekend on Selection Sunday, likely facing an early week play-in game because of its record and ranking. The Bucs hope to land an invitation to the NIT or another postseason tournament.

Women’s Final

For the 15th time in the last 17 seasons Liberty claimed the Big South tournament championship, this time the top-seeded Lady Flames downed seventh-seeded Longwood 54-45 in the 2013 VisitMyrtleBeach.com Big South Basketball Championships final held at The HTC Center in Conway, S.C.

Liberty, 27-6 (16-2 Big South), receives the conference’s automatic bid to the 2013 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. The championship is the 12th for head coach Carey Green, who improved to 38-2 all-time in Big South tournament contests.

The loss ends Longwood’s (14-19, 8-10 BSC) inaugural Big South season. Moreover, Longwood’s appearance in the Big South tournament final was the first for member institution in their first year of conference play since the 2004 season.

Liberty’s Tolu Omotola finished as the game’s leading scorer with 16 points. She was joined in double figures by teammate Ashley Rininger with 10. Devon Brown led all players with 13 boards, including nine on the defensive end.

Chelsea Coward paced the Lancers with 14 points, including a pair from long range. Coward and Crystal Smith co-led Longwood with seven rebounds. The Lancer starters combined for 34 of the team’s 45 points.

Liberty opened the second half on a 14-6 run over the first eight minutes of play, expanding their six-point halftime lead to 14 points. Omotola scored nine points during the run with all but a free throw coming inside the paint. Brown scored on a knifing play to the rim and Brittany Campbell drained her second trey of the game as the shot clock expired, giving the Lady Flames a 43-29 lead with 11:10 remaining in regulation.

Longwood’s Neal scored following a timeout to temporarily slow Liberty’s run, but Rininger answered right back with a basket and Katelyn Adams connected on one at the line to push the Lady Flames out to a 46-31 advantage.

Photo by Joel Beachum

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