Liberty 68, Gardner-Webb 66
Liberty looked poised to end its string of close calls in the
Big South championship game when it was up by 20 points with less
than 10 minutes left.
Little did anyone know the Flames would need a redshirt freshman
to hit the first game-winning shot of her career to continue their
Devon Brown stopped Liberty’s second-half meltdown with a
banked-in runner with 4 seconds left to snap a tie, and the Flames
beat Gardner-Webb 68-66 on Sunday for its 13th Big South title in
The second-seeded Flames’ 10th straight victory wasn’t secured
until Monique Hudson missed a runner at the buzzer for the
top-seeded Lady Bulldogs (28-4), who saw their 16-game winning
streak snapped and their hopes for a first NCAA tournament berth
squashed despite a remarkable comeback.
And it was eerily similar finish to last year, when Hudson’s
sister Dominique missed a shot at the buzzer in Gardner-Webb’s
51-50 loss to Liberty in the title game. The year before, Liberty
got a hoop in the closing seconds for a 66-65 win over Radford.
Liberty’s 2006 title was a 53-50 victory over High Point.
“It’s what the championship games usually turn out to be, very
close,” said Liberty coach Carey Green, who improved to 30-1 in
the Big South tournament. “That’s been the history the last
several years, it’s been a two-point, a one-point. There’s not been
too many blowouts in the last six or seven years.”
Tournament MVP Brown had 24 points and eight rebounds for the
Flames, who gave up an 18-0 run after leading 58-38.
“I knew were going to win the whole time,” insisted guard
Amber Mays, who fouled out late with eight points and eight of
Liberty’s 26 turnovers.
Dominique Hudson scored 17 points and Margaret Roundtree and
Monique Hudson added 13 apiece for Gardner-Webb in a bitter finish
for coach Rick Reeves, who guided Liberty to its first three Big
South crowns from 1997-99.
“I really wanted this for the Gardner-Webb community,” Reeves
said. “I wanted this championship as much as any championship I’ve
ever won and been a part of.”
Brown prevented that with two key buckets in the closing
She stepped between two defenders, lunged forward and banked in
a shot as she was falling down in the lane to put Liberty ahead
66-64 with 32 seconds left. But Courtney Epps’ driving layup with
12.7 seconds left tied it.
After a timeout, Brown drove down the right side of the floor
and her leaner kissed in off the glass.
“Not at all,” Brown said when asked if she had game-winning
shot experience from high school in Waynesboro, Va. “This is the
Gardner-Webb was out of timeouts and Monique Hudson dribbled the
length of the floor. Her shot from the right of the lane went off
the glass and rim before falling out, and Liberty’s players mobbed
“The play was to give her the ball,” Green said. “They
changed up defenses and she did exactly where we wanted her to go
with it. She made a big shot.”
Early on, it didn’t look like there would be any suspense – or
any chance for Reeves to beat his former team.
Reeves left the Lynchburg, Va., school for Southern Mississippi
in 1999. He resigned with a losing record after five seasons and
moved to Gardner-Webb, inheriting a 5-22 team in 2004.
The Boiling Springs, N.C., school left the Atlantic Sun for the
Big South last year, and made a surprising run to the 2009
The Lady Bulldogs seemed poised to unseat Liberty this year.
They pulled out two close victories over the Flames during the
regular season and tied a conference record for wins.
But Gardner-Webb was quickly overwhelmed.
Roundtree, the league’s player of the year, was bottled up by
Liberty’s defense when she wasn’t missing layups in a miserable
3-for-13 first-half performance. Dominique Hudson, a fellow
all-conference pick, had three fouls before the game was 12 minutes
old. Epps picked up a technical foul and fellow starter LaTroya
Pope had to leave briefly after taking a hard fall.
Liberty shot 65 percent in the first half before Gardner-Webb
started getting hot.
Dominique Hudson’s twisting layup and free throw with 2:32 left
gave Gardner-Webb its first lead of the game. But the Flames still
improved to 13-0 in Big South title games.
“We’re very blessed,” Green said. “We’re fortunate.”