It was a quite a rollercoaster ride between in-state rivals Saturday afternoon as Liberty dominated the first half, Radford overcame a 25-point deficit to force overtime, but the Flames had the final answer in overtime, taking a 71-64 victory inside the Dedmon Center.
Justin Cousin scored all 16 of his points after halftime, including 13 in the second half, to spark the comeback, along with Ed Polite, Jr., who recorded his seventh double-double, totaling 11 points and 13 rebounds.
After a disastrous shooting first half when it made just 4 of 26 attempts, the Highlanders turned things completely around in the second, hitting on 55 percent from the field while also dominating on the glass as they clawed back and put themselves in position to win the game in regulation.
Liberty led by a commanding 34-12 score at the break, added to it with the first three points in the second half, and it was a 22-point margin at the first media timeout. However, Radford then outscored the Flames 40-18 over the final 16 minutes. It started with a 6-0 spurt that included four points by Polite, Jr. that made it a 41-25 score with 13:44 to play.
Cousin and Christian Bradford each followed with 3-pointers to make it a 11-point game, but John Dawson answered each with a trey of his own and the Flames’ lead was still at 55-39 with 7:34 on the clock. From that point, though, Liberty made just two more field goals and the Highlanders put together a 20-4 run down the stretch.
Two baskets by Randy Phillips around back-to-back 3-pointers by Cousin cut the deficit in half to 57-49 with 4:33 to go. A layup by Polite, Jr. and a put back by Phillips then made it 57-53 with 2:25 left. After Liberty scored its final basket of regulation, Caleb Tanner quickly drained a 3-pointer and Phillips made the first of two free throws after two offensive rebounds for a 59-57 score. Phillips missed the second attempt, but Polite, Jr. got the rebound and Phillips followed up his teammate’s miss with a tying put back with 47 seconds to play.
Liberty’s Ryan Kemrite then missed a driving layup on the other end, giving Radford a chance to win it. However, after a timeout, Dawson deflected the ball as time was winding down and the Highlanders were unable to recover in time to get a shot off.
In overtime, neither team for scored for nearly two minutes before Polite, Jr. made one free throw to give Radford its first – and only – lead of the game at 60-59. However, the Highlanders’ shooting struggles from the start returned as they missed their first three attempts in overtime and went 1 for 6 in the extra period. Liberty, meanwhile, went 0 for 2 from the field during the period, but connected on 12 of 14 free throws, including 10 in a row on five consecutive possessions, to pull away for the win.
Radford’s 15.4 percent shooting in the first half included an 0 of 12 performance from 3-point range and resulted in tying a Dedmon Center record for fewest points in a half (12), equaling the mark set in a game against Lock Haven in 1989. The 12 points also surpassed the team’s season low for 20 minutes.
However, the Highlanders connected on 16 of 29 shots in the final 20 minutes, making 6 of 10 from beyond the arc. After a 0-for-5 start, Cousin made four of right in the second half, all from 3-point range.
Polite, Jr. scored 10 of his 11 points in the final 20 minutes and grabbed more than 10 rebounds in a game for the eighth time season.
Phillips also played a huge role in the comeback, finishing with 11 points – one shy of a career-high – and seven rebounds, with all of the points and all but one of the rebounds coming after halftime. The duo helped Radford to a 28-12 rebounding domination in the final 25 minutes to finish with a 45-29 advantage. The Highlanders outscored the Flames 21-0 in second-chance points for the game, including 15-0 in the second half.
Bradford also helped out on the glass, corralling a career-high 11 rebounds, along with seven points and four assists. Tanner returned to scoring in double figures, tallying all 10 of his points after the break, with nine in the second half.
Radford finished at 34 percent from the field in the game, while Liberty shot 44 percent, including 52 percent in the first half (five of 10 on 3-pointers).
Lovell Cabbill led four Flames in double figures with 16, while Kemrite had 14, including 7 for 7 at the free-throw line, part of an 18 for 20 performance as a team.
Radford lost for the first time in three overtime games this season, while Liberty improved to 4-0 in Big South road games and remained tied for first in the conference.
“I’m proud of the team for the way they competed. I wish we had competed that way in the first half, even though the offense wasn’t going very well. We’ve still got to compete on both ends and it’s tough with a young team when they’re shots aren’t falling. They get a little bit discouraged and the intensity and energy level isn’t quite the same on the other end. But coming out of the locker room we had talked about how nobody in the building, especially Liberty, thinks we’re going to win this game, but we’re going to win it. And they did everything they could to make that happen and unfortunately we just fell a little bit short. I take my hat off to Coach (Ritchie) McKay and the rest of their staff and team. They came out as focused as any team I’ve ever played, and it was fun to see our guys not give up and just fight,” said Radford head coach Mike Jones.
Radford takes on another in-state rival on Thursday, traveling to Longwood for a 7 p.m. game.
— Courtesy of RU Athletics