LYNCHBURG, Va. – Eric Jamison's three-pointer was just long at the horn and Gardner-Webb dropped a 65-62 road game at first-place Liberty Thursday night.
The Runnin' Bulldogs (10-10, 3-4 Big South) tied the game, 60-60, on a pair of Tyrell Nelson free throws with 50.5 seconds left, but the Flames (11-9, 6-1 Big South) got two John Dawson free throws – and GWU turned the ball over with 17.2 seconds left.
A pair of Ryan Kemrite free throws pushed the lead to 64-60 and Gardner-Webb sent Laquincy Rideau to the rim on the ensuing possession. Rideau was fouled before he could get a shot off and made both of his free throws to trim the lead to two points.
Dawson made the first of two free throws on the other end with 11.2 seconds left, but missed the second – allowing Gardner-Webb plenty of time to attempt a tying shot. Jamaal Robateau was double-teamed in the right corner, but got a pass off to Jamison in plenty of time – but the redshirt freshman's shot was off the back iron just before the horn sounded.
Nelson fouled out late after scoring a game-high 22 points for Gardner-Webb. Rideau added 12 and David Efianayi scored 11 for the visitors – who pounded the ball inside in the first half, but found the going much tougher over the final 20 minutes.
GWU held a 28-10 edge in the paint to build a 30-27 lead at the break.
Both teams struggled to get going early in the second half, but Liberty heated up from the perimeter to push ahead. After Gardner-Webb went up 42-38 on a Jamaal Robateau triple with 10:56 to play, the Flames uncorked a 15-6 run to seize control of the game.
Gardner-Webb kept the game close by making free throws, enduring a field goal drought of 5:56 until D.J. Laster's jump hook with 2:08 left cut the Flames' lead to 60-56. Jamison spun in the lane for a short jumper to trim the lead to 60-58 with 1:31 on the clock and – after getting a defensive stop – Nelson stepped to the line and drained two free throws to tie the game at 60-60 with 50.5 seconds left.
Early on, Gardner-Webb went inside to Nelson very effectively, going on an 8-0 run to go up 13-5 with 12:19 to play before the break.
Liberty would answer with its perimeter game. Kemrite nailed a trey to cut the lead to 13-8 with 10:41 on the clock and Myo Baxter-Bell followed his own miss with a tip in to trim the lead to 13-10 on the next possession.
Nelson connected on a 17-foot baseline jumper to slow momentum for the hosts, but Liberty pulled even when John Dawson converted a three-point play inside – tying the score at 15. GWU cooled considerably during what wound up a 10-2 run by the Flames, but Efianayi shook free for a driving layup and a 17-15 lead with 6:32 before half.
After Kemrite followed a miss inside to tie the game again, Lovell Cabbil drained a triple from the corner to put Liberty back on top, 20-17, with 5:20 to play.
Gardner-Webb recovered, getting back-to-back buckets in close from Rideau and Miller to go up 21-20. Efianayi drove down the lane again to extend the lead to 23-20, but the Flames would retake the lead once more with a 5-0 run.
Ezra Talbert's straightaway three put Liberty up 25-23 – the Flames' fourth trey of the half – but Laster had an answer for Gardner-Webb. The Pensacola, Fla., sophomore drove the lane and was fouled on the next possession, converting the old-fashioned trifecta for a 26-25 advantage.
GWU went inside to Nelson for a bucket off the glass and Efianayi sliced into the lane once more for a 30-25 lead with 59.2 seconds on the first-half clock. Dawson scored inside for Liberty, but neither team would get on the board again before the clock showed zeros.
GWU shot 63.6 percent in first half after its sizzling start (14-of-22), with its drives and paint touches critical to building the 30-27 lead at the break.
Gardner-Webb finished the game with a 52.4 percent shooting effort, bolstered by Nelson inside – but scored only 10 points in the paint after intermission. Nelson finished 7-of-10 from the floor and made all eight of his free throws in the game.
The Runnin' Bulldogs were hampered by 19 turnovers – several coming on offensive foul calls in the second half during critical moments – as Liberty converted those miscues into 18 points.
Liberty shot just 37.7 percent for the game, but made 10-of-28 from long range to make up for its inability to score inside. The Flames also kept Gardner-Webb off the offensive backboards, limiting GWU to only six offensive caroms and six second-chance points.
Kemrite (20 points) and Dawson (20 points) paced the Flames, combining to shoot 11-of-16 as a duo – and 5-of-9 combined from deep.
Gardner-Webb will return home on Saturday, January 21, hosting Presbyterian at 3:00 pm in Paul Porter Arena (bigsouthsports.com). The game is part of annual Basketball Alumni Day activities in Boiling Springs. For more information call (704) 406-4340.