BOILING SPRINGS – Liberty rallied twice from deficits of two or more possessions in the final minute of regulation and the first overtime to tie and captured a 92-87 win at Gardner-Webb Thursday in double overtime.
Down six with 58.2 seconds left in regulation, the Flames (16-10, 11-2 Big South) knocked down a layup and three-pointer as Gardner-Webb (14-12, 7-6 Big South) made just one free throw and had a key shot clock violation with 6.6 seconds left.
Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz then drove baseline for Liberty and was fouled with 2.0 seconds on the clock, and calmly sank both free throws to tie the score, 61-61. Gardner-Webb’s full court pass was knocked away.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs regrouped and jumped out to a 68-61 lead in the first overtime period, as David Efianayi scored the first four points of extra time and assisted on a Liam O’Reilly three-pointer.
Liberty trimmed the lead down to four points twice, but Gardner-Webb took a 73-66 lead with 49.4 seconds left on a Laquincy Rideau free throw. After a miss from the Flames, Gardner-Webb had the ball back with 40.0 seconds left, and Efianayi made just one of two free throws to put the ‘Dogs up 74-66.
Disaster struck for Gardner-Webb from there. After a controversial offensive rebound over the baseline, the Flames got a four-point play with 30.1 seconds left from Ryan Kemrite and began to claw its way back again.
With the score 76-70 after another split at the free throw line for GWU, John Dawson stepped into a three-pointer with 25.6 seconds left to cut the lead to one possession. A free throw by Tyrell Nelson pushed the lead to 77-73, but Pacheco-Ortiz shot two more free throws with 11.2 seconds left after a charge call was reversed after official review.
Pacheco-Ortiz made both and Rideau was fouled. The West Palm Beach, Fla., sophomore mde the first of two, but Kemrite rebounded the miss with 9.7 seconds on the clock. A sprint ahead to A.C. Reid got the ball within 30 feet – and Reid banked in a triple to with 1.5 seconds left to send the game to a second overtime.
The Flames did not trail over the final five minutes, going on a 7-1 run to start with an 85-79 lead. Gardner-Webb recovered to tie the score, 86-86, with 58.7 seconds left – but a three-point play by Pacheco-Ortiz on another drive was two large a margin to overtime.
Liberty made three of its final four free throws over the final 22 seconds to hold on – moving its record in Big South road games to 7-0 this season.
Reid’s banker from long range was his second make in late game situations in the last week. His buzzer beater on Saturday lifted Liberty to a three-point win over Radford at home.
Pacheco-Ortiz finished with 28 points to lead all scorers, knocking in 10-of-11 from the charity stripe and finishing with five assists and just one turnover in 38 minutes.
Kemrite scored all 13 of his points in the final 3:57 of regulation and overtime, making a pair of game-changing three-pointers. Myo Baxter-Bell had 12 and Brock Gardner supplied 11 off the bench – with Liberty draining 15 three-pointers on the night.
Gardner-Webb got 27 points from Efianayi, who added seven rebounds and made a game-high 13 free throws in 17 attempts. Tyrell Nelson finished with 18 points and 12 boards, Rideau added 16 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and three steals – and D.J. Laster came off the bench to net 11 points.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs shot 46.3 percent for the game and made just six three-point baskets (6-of-17, 35.3 percent). GWU did make 31-of-43 from the charity stripe (72.1 percent), but were a combined 7-of-14 (50.0 percent) in the final 60 seconds of both regulation and overtime.
Liberty also forced 18 Gardner-Webb turnovers in the game, turning that into a +8 margin (18-10) in points off of turnovers.
The game featured 13 ties and nine lead changes, with Gardner-Webb leading for 25:08 and the game tied for more than 11 combined minutes (11:33).
The Runnin’ Bulldogs have little time to rest, with just over 36 hours until hitting the floor for pregame warmups at Winthrop. The Eagles (18-6, 10-3 Big South) fell out of a first-place tie with UNC Asheville and Liberty, falling 104-101 in double overtime in Asheville Thursday night.
Gardner-Webb and Winthrop will tip off at 12:00 noon on Saturday in Rock Hill, S.C., in another critical Big South Conference test. The game will air live on ASN (American Sports Network). Check local listings for availability. Evan Lepler and Jeff Jackson will provide the call from the Winthrop Coliseum.