BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – That old saying about lightning never striking twice may be true, but don’t tell it to Liberty’s A.C. Reid.
Just days after the junior wing banked in a buzzer-beating triple to beat in-state nemesis Radford, he banked in another from distance at the horn to send his club to double overtime. His Flames then went on to defeat the homestanding Runnin’ Bulldogs, 92-87, in two overtimes, before an announced crowd of 1,204 at Paul Porter Arena Thursday night.
“It was a great college basketball game, and obviously, a heartbreaker for us to lose,” stated Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft after the game. “I felt like we played great, and put ourselves in position to win the game.”
Liberty (16-10, 11-2 Big South) started a bit slow, connecting on just three of its first 10 shots. The Flames and Runnin’ Bulldogs played the first eight minutes of the contest with neither team reaching double figures. Gardner-Webb (14-12, 7-6) got an Eric Jamison jumper at the 12:03 mark to take an 11-8 lead. Both teams saw five-point advantages go by the boards, before an eight-point Liberty lead shrunk to just two at the half.
A tug of war ensued in the second stanza, as neither team could separate by more than a handful of points. Gardner-Webb seemed to finally wrest control of the contest at the 2:50 mark, as two Tyrell Nelson free throws sparked a 6-0 run that snapped a 54-all tie. The clock ticked under a minute before Liberty’s Brock Gardner converted to cut the lead to four. After Gardner-Webb hit one of two tries at the line, a John Dawson three-pointer sliced the home club’s advantage to just two. Freshman Liberty guard Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz then got to the line after a turnover and foul by Gardner-Webb, sinking two free throws that tied the contest and sparked the initial overtime period.
“I thought our mindset was kind of in celebration mode a bit too early,” said Craft. “Just credit Liberty for never giving up and just doing a great job of time management.”
The Runnin’ Bulldogs raced out to a 7-0 run to start the overtime period, before a Lovell Cabbil triple cut into that margin. The Gardner-Webb lead grew to eight with 40 seconds to play in the first overtime, when a David Efianayi free throw seemed to salt away the proceedings. Liberty came roaring back, however, first getting a Ryan Kemrite three-pointer on which he drew – and converted – a foul shot, then seeing the lead dip to just three after two free throws by Pacheco. The Runnin’ Bulldog lead stood at just three before Liberty’s final possession of the first overtime, setting up Reid’s second long-distance miracle in five days.
“I thought they were gonna try to get it to him (Reid), because he hit the one in the last game against Radford,” said Craft. “We just tried to let our defense win the game, and obviously, he came up big.”
The shot clearly bolstered the Flames, as the visitors got a Myo Baxter-Bell layup to open the second extra period, giving Liberty a lead it enjoyed nearly the entire five minutes. Two Efianayi free throws tied the game at 86 with 58 seconds to play, but a 6-1 finishing run by Liberty provided the final margin. The win extended Liberty’s unbeaten string of road conference games to seven this season, with games at Winthrop and UNC Asheville potentially separating the Flames from an unblemished road slate.
Pacheco-Ortiz paced the Flames with a career-high 28 points, connecting on 7-of-16 tries from the field and 10-of-11 from the line. The freshman also turned in five assists to just one turnover, and hauled in four boards. “He had a great game. He really hurt us,” said Craft. “We tried to get a perimeter guy on (guard Ryan) Kemrite and put our four man on (Pacheco-Ortiz), and he made us pay for that tonight.” Kemrite scored 13 after being shut out in the first half. Baxter-Bell tallied 12, while forward Brock Gardner contributed 11 off the bench.
Efianayi’s 27 led Gardner-Webb, with the total including a 13-of-17 performance from the free throw line. Nelson added a double-double, scoring 18 points and pulling down 12 boards. Point guard LaQuincy Rideau nearly added his own, finishing with 16 points and nine boards. Forward DJ Laster scored 11 off the bench.
Both teams return to Big South play Saturday. Liberty hosts Charleston Southern in a 2:00 (Eastern) contest at the Vines Center in Lynchburg, Va. Gardner-Webb travels to Winthrop for a noon tilt. That game will be aired nationally on the American Sports Network.
LIBERTY 92, GARDNER-WEBB 87 (2OT)
LIBERTY (16-10, 11-2 BIG SOUTH): Baxter-Bell 3-8 6-8 12, Kemrite 3-10 5-7 13, Cabbil 2-6 1-2 6, Pacheco-Ortiz 7-16 10-11 28, Dawson 2-5 0-2 6, Reid 3-8 0-0 9, Barmore 0-0 0-0 0, Gardner 4-5 1-2 11, Chen 0-1 0-0 0, Farquhar 0-0 0-0 0, E. Talbert 0-1 0-0 0, J. Talbert 3-3 0-0 7. Totals 27-63 23-32 92.
GARDNER-WEBB (14-12, 7-6): Nelson 5-12 8-9 18, Robateau 2-4 0-0 5, Rideau 4-10 8-12 16, Efianayi 6-10 13-17 27, Niangane 0-0 0-0 0, Jamison 1-4 0-0 2, Turner 0-0 0-0 0, O’Reilly 2-4 0-0 6, Miller 1-2 0-0 2, Laster 4-8 2-5 11. Totals 25-54 31-43 87.
Halftime — Liberty 27-25. 3-Point Goals—Liberty 15-39 (Baxter-Bell 0-1, Kemrite 2-7, Cabbil 1-2, Pacheco-Ortiz 4-10, Dawson 2-5, Reid 3-8, Gardner 2-3, Chen 0-1, E. Talbert 0-1, J. Talbert 1-1), Gardner-Webb 6-17 (Nelson 0-1, Robateau 1-3, Rideau 0-2, Efianayi 2-5, Jamison 0-1, O’Reilly 2-4, Laster 1-1). Fouled Out — Baxter-Bell, O’Reilly. Rebounds — Gardner-Webb 44 (Nelson 12), Liberty 33 (Kemrite 6). Assists — Liberty 16 (Pacheco-Ortiz 5), Gardner-Webb 15 (Rideau 9). Total Fouls — Liberty 31, Gardner-Webb 24. Technical — None. A — 1204.
Points in the Paint — Gardner-Webb 36, Liberty 22. Points off Turnovers — Liberty 18, Gardner-Webb 10. Second-Chance Points — Liberty 12, Gardner-Webb 9. Fast Break Points — Gardner-Webb 3, Liberty 0. Bench Points — Liberty 27, Gardner-Webb 21.