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Big South Finals Recap

March 11, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Big South Conference Finals Recap

Recap by Jeremy Dunlap

(1) Liberty 89, (2) High Point 44
The result was never in doubt as the top-seeded Liberty Flames easily ran over the visiting second-seeded High Point Panthers in the Big South Tournament Championship game, 89-44. The 45-point victory broke the conference’s record for largest margin of victory in a Big South tournament game. The Flames (18-14) have punched their ticket to the Big Dance and will await their place in the bracket, to be announced on Selection Sunday, March 14.

In front of a Big South Tournament record crowd of 8,515, Liberty started the game on a 17-6 run and never let the lead get under ten the rest of the way as they cruised to the easy win over the visiting Panthers. The Flames built their lead to 40-22 going into halftime, then scored the first twelve points in the second half to put away any doubt that they would let High Point back into the game. Liberty freshman Larry Blair was one of many heroes for the Flames in the game, scoring a career high 29 points on a eleven-for-eighteen shooting from the field and a red hot seven-for-eleven output from beyond the three-point arc. Seniors Gabe Martin and Jason Sarchet helped the cause with double-doubles, Martin scoring nineteen points with eleven rebounds, and Sarchet scoring fourteen points and grabbing fourteen boards. Freshman David Dees also reached double-figures, scoring twelve points in the game.

High Point could never find its offensive rhythm or make enough stops on the defensive end to mount any type of comeback after looking shell-shocked in the opening minutes of the game. No Panthers scored in double-figures and the Big South Player of the Year, junior Danny Gathings, was held in check, scoring only seven points. Nothing worked right for HPU, especially their three-point shooting, as they only made one trifecta in fourteen attempts, with the only successful shot coming with one minute left in the game when the Panthers were down by forty-six points by reserve Chris Mayshack. Gathings was not the only High Point star to struggle, as junior Zione White, who scored 26 points in High Point’s semifinal win over UNC Asheville, was held to one-for-nine from the field for only two points.

Liberty dominated every aspect of the game. The Flames shot 43.4 percent from the field, 34.5 percent from behind the arc, and were perfect from the free-throw line, making all thirteen attempts. In contrast, High Point shot only 25.4 percent from the floor, only 7.1 percent from three-point range, and 56.5 percent from the charity stripe. The Flames won the rebound battle 52-40, the turnover war 21-13, and every other statistical measure that you could possibly come up with. High Point never had the lead in the game and only managed one tie as the score was 2-2 early in the contest.

This win marked gave the Flames their second-ever Big South Tournament Championship and their second berth into the NCAA Tournament. Their last trip to the Big Dance came ten years ago in 1994, when Liberty made the field of 64 as a sixteen-seed and battled North Carolina in the first round. The Flames played tough for a while, even holding a 46-45 lead with ten minutes remaining before faltering at the end, losing 71-51 in their only prior trip to the NCAAs. With an 18-14 record, and an RPI in the 170-190 range, the Flames look likely to receive another sixteen seed when the brackets are announced. They have played a trio of likely tournament teams, losing to Duke 76-47, falling to Seton Hall 65-47, and getting knocked off by Arizona, 107-91.

High Point finished the season with the second biggest win-improvement in the country, as their twelve win improvement from a 7-20 campaign last year to a 19-11 record this season only trails UTEP, who has already improved by sixteen wins this season. And do not be surprised to see the Panthers in the championship game again next season, as they only lose two players from this year’s team, with the two only averaging a combined three points per game.

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