CHARLESTON, S.C. – Liberty sunk 15 three-pointers and weathered several second half comeback bids to hand Charleston Southern an 81-70 loss on Saturday at the Buc Dome.
CSU (4-9, 0-2 Big South) struggled to contain the Big South's top three-point shooting team. Liberty (7-8, 2-0 Big South) buried five early treys to take an early 21-11 advantage and finished 15-of-28 from downtown. The Flames led by ten at halftime, pushed the advantage to 12 several times in the second half and answered after the Bucs trimmed the deficit to six on two occasions. The latter came via a 7-0 spurt after CSU had closed within 62-56 at the 6:13 mark.
Ryan Kemrite, the Big South leader in three-point accuracy, drilled four first half treys en route to a game-high 19 points. John Dawson added 16 points, five rebounds and four assists, and delivered several timely plays throughout the second half.
CSU will now head on the road for two games this week as it opens the 2017 calendar year. Head coach Barclay Radebaugh hopes his team will use the experience of starting Big South play with the league's top two teams (as voted on in the preseason poll) to its advantage.
"I didn't feel like we played up to our fullest ability, particularly on the defensive end," Radebaugh said. "We had some really determined defensive principles for this game and we fell a little short in those areas. I did think we played extremely hard but we didn't always play extremely smart. We're a work in progress and these games against the top teams in the Big South are only gonna help us going forward. We're looking forward to getting on the practice floor tomorrow."
Liberty led 42-32 at halftime and opened the second half scoring on a Dawson pull-up jumper. CSU countered with seven straight points during a quick spurt punctuated by one of Raemond Robinson's three triples. The Flames nudged their lead back out to nine before the Bucs whittled the deficit down to four on a Keeling jumper with 11:19 left.
In one of the game's key sequences, Liberty then ran off eight consecutive markers to re-take a 12-point lead. Lovell Cabbil drilled back-to-back threes to help highlight that stretch.
CSU mounted its final rally moments later, as Howard and Keeling powered for inside scores to bring the tally to 62-56. The Bucs had two chances to come within four or three but came up empty both times. Dawson drained a three following those misses and Kemrite added a layup to give Liberty a double digit advantage for good. A.C. Reid tacked on a long triple to stake the Flames to a 72-58 lead with 3:03 left.
"You don't want to be in rotation against Liberty," Radebaugh said. "The thing that you've gotta do against great three-point shooting teams is you've gotta guard your yard and not require defensive help. If we get in our stance and guard like we're capable of doing, then we wouldn't be in so many rotations."
"It's not a matter of attitude or effort with this team," Radebaugh continued. "It's simply a matter of experience. I'm just a believer in the process. If this team can stick with the process, then at some point this year and in the future we can be a really good team."
Kemrite buried threes from each wing to help Liberty get out to a 6-0 lead 1:08 into play. Dawson sailed home two treys of his own, and Myo Baxter-Bell eventually provided two free throws to put CSU in a 21-11 with 13:39 remaining.
The Bucs settled in for much of the remainder of the stanza, closing the gap to 26-23 on back-to-back triples from Robinson and Jamar Martin. CSU eventually tied the game at 28 apiece on a Cortez Mitchell drive at the 4:31 mark.
Liberty took momentum into halftime, though, with a 14-4 run. Ezra Talbert knocked down two threes, with the latter giving the Flames a 42-30 edge, their largest of the half.
CSU will head to Campbell on Wednesday for its first game of 2017. Tipoff at Gore Arena in Buies Creek, N.C. is slated for 7 p.m.