Liberty 81, High Point 73
HIGH POINT, N.C. (AP)
Liberty coach Carey Green probably shouldn't be as bad at celebrating as he says he is. Through the years, his Flames have given him plenty of chances to practice.
Avery Warley added 14 points and 12 rebounds despite prolonged foul trouble, while Brown was 6 of 23 shooting. The Flames (24-8) built a 56-39 rebounding advantage and used a late 22-9 run to return to the NCAA tournament after a one-year absence.
Green's record in the league tournament improved to 35-2 in his 13th year.
''It's March Madness, and it's a dream come true for our team that we're in the tournament,'' Green said. ''As a coach, I'm the world's worst at celebrating because I'm always looking for what's the next challenge. I would hope that I could lead this team into celebration and take a sigh of relief and enjoy the moment and refocus.''
Erin Reynolds scored 27 points, Shamia Brown added 23 and Cheyenne Parker had 12 rebounds for the Panthers (20-12). They had their leading rebounder and scorer foul out during a span of five seconds - and the game got away from them shortly thereafter.
''There's a reason they've won as many championships as they have,'' first-year High Point coach Jennifer Hoover said. ''You've got to give them credit. We're getting there. We're still a work in progress.''
Shamia Brown's stickback with 11 1/2 minutes left put High Point up 53-48 before LaKendra Washington's three-point play on the Flames' next trip downcourt started the big run.
Reagan Miller gave Liberty the lead for good when her drive with 8 1/2 minutes to play made it 57-56. High Point managed only one tie after that, on Reynolds' 3-pointer with 7:45 left that made it 59-all. Tolu Omotola then followed that with a layup - off Miller's no-look pass - to put the Flames back on top.
They took firm control of the momentum during a series of whistles that began with Liberty up 65-62 with 4:39 left.
Parker and Jasmine Gardner became tangled up while going for a rebound, Gardner fell to the floor and Parker appeared to lean down and say something to her. That prompted a technical foul on Parker - her fifth foul.
''That's probably just my immaturity,'' Parker said. ''I just got frustrated with one of the players being extra physical.''
Reynolds then fouled out with 4:34 remaining when she got a hand on Devon Brown.
Warley capped the big run with a layup that made it 70-62 with just under 4 minutes left, and the Flames later pushed it into double figures in the final minute. Miller's free throw with 53.9 seconds left made it 76-66.
Miller finished with 14 points for the Flames, who will bring a seven-game winning streak into the NCAA tournament. They reached the Big South title game for the 15th time in 16 years and improved their title-game record to 14-1 with the only loss coming last year.
Warley, who matched a Big South tournament record with 22 rebounds in a semifinal win against Charleston Southern, was on pace to do it again early for a Flames team that has had an average rebounding margin of plus-24 in the tournament.
But fouls were a problem all game, and for a while the Panthers were able to take advantage before Liberty made most of the plays down the stretch.
''We're a strong team. We fight at all times,'' Devon Brown said. ''Avery's a big contributor on our squad, but sometimes she's going to go down. ... That's what our bench did today, stepped up big for us and played hard.''
Shamia Brown singlehandedly kept High Point in the game early by scoring 12 of her team's first 13 points, and then it was Reynolds' turn to take over. She scored all of her team's points during a 16-5 run late in the half. She hit a 3-pointer in transition - her third 3 of the spurt - to put High Point up 35-29 with 2 minutes to go before the break.
High Point fell to 0-3 in Big South title games, had its six-game winning streak snapped and was denied its first league tournament title since moving to Division I in 1999-2000.