ASHEVILLE, N.C. – With time winding down in overtime and the UNC Asheville women’s basketball team holding an 81-80 lead, freshman guard Ja’Da Brayboy forced a turnover and then converted two free throws to give the Bulldogs an 83-80 victory over Big South Conference leader Liberty on Saturday afternoon at Kimmel Arena.
Brayboy also converted two free throws with the Bulldogs down 72-70 in the closing moments of the second half to force overtime.
“That was a great victory for our team this afternoon,” said Asheville head coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick. “This is the most disciplined effort we have had on offense the entire season with only 7 turnovers. Our shot selection was also much improved from Thursday night.”
With the victory the Bulldogs improve to 8-10 on the year with a 5-4 mark in conference while Liberty falls to 11-7 overall and 7-2 in the Big South.
Six Bulldogs scored in double figures including a season-high 17 point from senior guard Shonese Jones. Brayboy tallied 16 points for the Blue & White with Paige Love adding 14, Tianna Knuckles adding 12 and Brittany Gwyn adding 10 to the Bulldogs’ total. Brayboy and Love each had four assists for Asheville with Gwyn adding three of her own.
The win marks the first victory for Asheville over Liberty since Feb. 24, 2007 at the Vines Center when the Bulldogs edged the Flames 54-51 en route to a Big South Conference Championship. Today also marked the first time the Blue & White defeated the Flames in Asheville since the 1996-97 season inside of the Justice Center.
Liberty had previously won the last 16 meetings between the two schools.
The Flames were led offensively by sophomore center Ashley Rininger who scored a game-high 21 points. Frontcourt mate Katelyn Adams scored 11 and pulled down 10 rebounds, with Emily Frazier and Catherine Kearney scoring 11 points apiece as well.
“Defensively, Liberty's offense gave us all we could handle in the paint, but our kids kept fighting,” added Kirkpatrick. “Our perimeter defenders really stepped up and executed the game plan well. I am very proud of their collective effort and focus.
Liberty jumped out to and early lead but the Bulldogs were able to take the lead at the 13:45 mark in the first half when Tianna Knuckles sank a 3-pointer from the wing to put Asheville up 11-10. Rininger answered with a trey right away to give the Flames the lead once again.
Jones would tie the game for the Bulldogs at 32-32 with 58 seconds to go in the half on a 3-pointer from the baseline but Liberty would convert two free throws to take a 34-32 lead into the half.
The second half saw the Flames go on a 9-2 run over the first three minutes of the frame to build a 43-34 lead. Asheville would respond and would pull to within a buck at 48-46 on a Brayboy jumper with 11:56 to play, but the Flames would keep Asheville at arm’s length throughout most of the half.
However, over the final two minutes the Bulldogs erased a 69-63 deficit as KJ Weaver converted two free throws, Knuckles hit a trey from the corner and Brayboy converted two free throws to tie the game 72-72 with nine seconds remaining.
Liberty’s Sadalia Ellis missed a layup in the final seconds and Brayboy grabbed the rebound to secure overtime.
In the overtime period the two teams traded the lead back and forth until the score was tied 79-79 with 1:58 to play. Knuckles would convert one of two from the charity stripe to give the Bulldogs an 80-79 lead. The Bulldogs forced a turnover and after both teams missed jumpers going each way Gwyn was fouled and converted one of two from the free throw line to give Asheville an 81-79 lead with 27 seconds to play.
Asheville fouled Adams on the inbounds play and Adams hit one free throw and missed the second. Liberty’s Kearney grabbed the rebound and handed off to Reagan Miller to reset the Flames’ offense with time winding down. It was then that Brayboy forced the turnover and then dribbled the clock down to seven seconds before being fouled.
Brayboy hit both to give Asheville an 83-80 lead with seven seconds left on the clock. Ellis brought the ball up the court for the Flames and drove the lane and attempted to kick the ball out to a 3-point shooter, but Gwyn intercepted the pass for the Bulldogs and held onto it until the clock read zero, igniting a celebration by the fans in the stands and the Bulldogs on the floor.
“I was ecstatic to see so many of our fans in attendance,” added Kirkpatrick. “It really means a lot to our kids.”
The Bulldogs will travel to Coastal Carolina for their next game, hitting the road to take on the Chanticleers on Thursday evening at The HTC Center at 7 p.m. Liberty will travel to Longwood on Thursday evening, with tip off at 7 p.m. as well.