Despite outscoring Liberty 32-18 in the second half, Radford’s comeback attempt fell short 49-48 as the Highlanders looked to complete the season sweep of the Flames for the first time since 1995-96, Tuesday night inside the Vines Center.
The loss marked the sixth straight game the Highlanders have dropped to the Flames in the Vines Center and their third road loss to Commonwealth opponents this season.
After being held without a field goal for a span of 11:36 in the opening half and a 6 for 21 shooting performance from the floor, Radford answered head coach Mike McGuire’s challenge to show more grit and fight in the second half.
The third quarter saw Radford open with an 8-2 run, cutting the deficit to single-digits at 33-24 with 4:13 on the clock. The Highlanders used layups from Jen Falconer, Jayda Worthy and Destinee Walker; while Claudia Quevedo added a jumper during the run.
Following four free throws and Iva Ilic’s third 3-pointer, Liberty saw its lead jump back to double-digits (38-24) with just under four minutes to play in the third.
Sydney Nunley ignited the Radford charge on two straight layups to close out the quarter, coming off an offensive rebound and Quevedo assist.
In the opening minutes of the final quarter, both squads traded points back-and-forth, before Radford knotted the game at 42 off an 11-0 run. Nunley added seven points during the span, including four straight free throws to tie the game. The sophomore poured in 11 of her 13 points in the second half.
Nene Johnson made the frontend of two free throws to hand Liberty a 43-42 lead with 2:36 on the clock. Khiana Johnson grabbed the rebound on the second attempt, pushing the ball up the floor and knocking down a pullup jumper in front of the arc to give Radford its first lead (44-43) since the 5:54 mark in the first quarter.
Following a Janayla White missed layup, Audrey Rettstatt hit a 3-pointer in front of Liberty’s bench as the Flames regained a 46-44 lead at the 1:19 mark.
Johnson was fouled on a layup attempt on Radford’s next possession, making 1 of 2 free throws, cutting the Flames’ lead to 46-45 with one minute remaining. Radford caught a break as their stout defense forced a turnover, giving Radford a chance to take the lead with 30 seconds remaining.
Looking to run the game and shot clock down, Johnson drove to left to dump a pass off to White in the post. Liberty regained possession off a Johnson turnover, forcing White to foul, sending Ilic to the line.
Ilic missed both free throws, but Ola Makurat corralled the loose ball rebound as the Highlanders fouled Johnson, who had just gone one for two from the line earlier in the quarter. Johnson made both free throws and Radford called timeout to advance the ball past the time line.
With 11.9 remaining on the clock and trailing 48-45, Radford looked for the tie out of the timeout. The Highlanders chance at tying the game fell short as the Liberty defense forced a contested three-point attempt from Johnson into the hands of Tatyana Crowder. Crowder made one free throw after being sent to the line, giving Liberty a two-possession lead 49-45 with 3.0 on the clock.
McGuire called his final timeout and Walker drained Radford’s first 3-pointer in 13 attempts to pull within 49-48, but was too late with 0.3 remaining on the clock as Liberty held off the Highlanders’ second half charge.
After finding themselves down 7-4 in the opening quarter, Liberty used a 13-1 run, to take a 17-8 lead in the opening quarter as Iva Ilic scored 10 of 15 points during the quarter. The Highlanders were held without a field goal for the final 8:46 of the quarter.
Liberty led by as many as 17 points in the contest. Radford has not won inside the Vines Center since a 62-53 decision on Jan. 17, 2011. Radford is 3-3 in Big South road games.
The Highlanders outshot the Flames 35.6 percent to 28.1 percent, marking the third time on the season Radford has held an opponent under 30-percent from the floor.
In the second half, Radford shot a blistering 41.7 percent, while Liberty made only four baskets for a 16.7 field goal percentage.
Despite turning the ball over 11 times in the first half, Radford only committed four turnovers during the second half comeback. Liberty had nine turnovers in the second half.
Radford controlled the paint 26-16, while Liberty scored 10 points off 14 offensive rebounds. In the three Big South road losses, Radford is seven for 42 from behind the arc.
Destinee Walker paced the Highlanders in scoring for the 14th time on the season with a 14-point effort.
Sydney Nunley followed with a career-high 13 points and nine rebounds after a strong fourth quarter effort. Nunley finished 4 of 7 from the field and made 5 of 6 free throws during the comeback run. The five made free throws are a career high.
“I feel like our issues on the road are offensive; whether its rushed shots or bad decisions. There are a lot of positives from the second half. We had some grit and fight about us. I was curious to see if we were going to respond. We wanted to win the third quarter and cut the deficit in half. Our fight in the final 10 minutes was great. That same fight is what it’s going to take when we come back here for the conference tournament,” said Radford head coach Mike McGuire
Radford continues action on Saturday against Charleston Southern in their annual “Pink Game” set for a 2 p.m. start.
The Highlanders will look to avenge their first Big South loss on the season to the Buccaneers on Jan. 27. Radford only scored 17 points in the second half during the 57-45 loss. Radford holds a 28-4 home record against the Bucs.
The Highlanders have won the last two matchups inside the Dedmon Center with the last loss coming on Dec. 28, 2013 in an 84-64 contest.
— Courtesy of RU Athletics