For the fourth time in two seasons, Commonwealth foes Radford and Liberty played a game that came down to the final seconds of regulation or went to overtime. Saturday night’s matchup appeared headed for the latter when Justin Cousin hit a tying 3-pointer with 4.3 seconds left. However, Liberty’s A.C. Reid banked in a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, dealing the Highlanders a heart-breaking 57-54 defeat at the Vines Center.
The Highlanders led the majority of the game, but faced three-point deficit with just over a minute to play. Ed Polite, Jr.’s off-balance runner in the lane made it 52-51 with 14 seconds left. Radford then fouled and Reid made both free throws with 11 seconds to play. On the other end, Christian Bradford drove the right side of the lane and kicked it out for Cousin’s shot from the wing.
The Flames advanced the ball to half court and called timeout with 2.6 seconds left and Reid got the ball just to the left of the top of key. His shot was well left of the rim, but caromed off the glass and in, giving the Flames the victory.
Just like the teams’ first meeting, the game was a tale of two different halves, with both teams playing well offensively in the first half, but defense dominating the second.
Radford broke its recent trend of slow starts, scoring on its first three possessions of the game and hitting six of its first nine shots from the field to build a 14-5 lead at the first media timeout, tallying two more points than it scored in the entire first half against the Flames less than a month ago. Randy Phillips scored six points inside, while Cousin connected on to two straight 3-pointers for the nine-point edge.
Liberty countered with a 12-2 run to take a brief lead. However, Caleb Tanner connected on three straight 3-pointers to push the Highlanders back in front. The Flames tried to keep pace but when Christian Bradford banked in another 3-pointer, Radford had a 30-25 lead. The Highlanders had hit 12 of 20 shots, including 6 of 8 3-pointers at that point, while Liberty was shooting 56 percent. Phillips added another put back inside and a driving layup by Cousin made it 34-25 with 3:40 left. However, Radford went scoreless the rest of the half and settled for a three-point edge at the break.
Both teams shooting percentages fell dramatically in the second half, but the score remained tight throughout. In the first 12 minutes, the Highlanders made just two of nine shots while committing nine turnovers and Liberty used a 6-0 run to take its biggest lead of the game at 47-43 with 7:43 to play. Radford took a timeout and responded by breaking an over seven-minute field goal drought with three baskets in a span of 1:35. Tanner hit a baseline runner, Darius Bolstad made a jump hook in the lane and Bradford drove for a layup and a 49-47 edge with 5:40 on the clock. The Highlanders, though, didn’t score again until Polite, Jr.’s basket, while Liberty converted three free throws and added a layup for the three-point lead.
Cousin and Tanner each scored 11 points to lead four Highlanders in double figures. Polite, Jr. narrowly missed his 11th double-double, scoring 10 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
Phillips tallied 10 points on five of six shooting from the field, all in the first half. He added five rebounds. Bradford recorded a game-high six assists, along with five points and six rebounds.
Radford was at 60 percent shooting in the first 12 minutes, but finished at 42 percent for the game, including 37 percent in the second half.
After the six of eight start behind the arc, the Highlanders were just two of 14 the rest of the way, and got only one to go before Cousin’s game-equalizer. Radford did dominate on the glass with 37-24 advantage, but its 16 turnovers led to 17 Liberty points.
After 48 percent shooting the first half, the Flames fell to 30 percent in the second and finished at 40 percent for the game. However, they were 12 of 14 at the line, compared to just four of five for Radford.
Freshman guard Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz led Liberty with 15 points, while John Dawson added 12.
Reid was one of six from the field and 0 of five on 3-pointers before the last shot. As a team, the Flames were just five of 24 in the game behind the arc. The loss was Radford’s first of the season when leading at halftime, falling to 8-1.
“It seems like every game we play against Liberty has been like that since Coach (Ritchie) McKay got there. Last year we won two close ones and this year we’ve lost two close ones. It’s painful, but I definitely love the way our guys competed for the whole game and gave themselves a chance with Cousin’s big shot to go into overtime. If Reid shoots that from the side, it’s an air ball by about five feet, but he happened to be at the right angle. We banked one in earlier in the game and they banked one in when it counted. Obviously a tough break for us,” said Radford head coach Mike Jones.
Radford is back at home Thursday night to host Charleston Southern for a 7 p.m. game.
— Courtesy of RU Athletics