ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Jaron Lane scored a career-high 29 points as UNC Asheville survived a furious Liberty rally as the Bulldogs edged the Flames, 75-72 in a Big South battle at Kimmel Arena Saturday afternoon.
Asheville (13-11, 7-3 BSC) built a 19-point lead early in the second half only to fall behind by three. The Bulldogs scored six straight points late in the game to take the lead for good but still had to survive a three-point attempt by Liberty’s Antwan Burrus as the buzzer before celebrating their third straight win.
The Flames (9-16, 3-7 BSC) were led by Burrus with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Andrew Smith added 14 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and four blocks. Joe Retic chipped in 10 points.
Freshman guard Andrew Rowsey contributed 23 points and a career-high seven assists. D.J. Cunningham had seven points and seven blocked shots for the Bulldogs.
The wild game saw Liberty coach Dale Layer ejected late in the game with his second technical foul.
Liberty led 69-67 after two free throws from Tomasz Gielo at the 1:53 mark. Rowsey missed a long three-pointer that the Flames rebounded.
But before Liberty could move the ball up the court, Rowsey stole the ball and score the game-tying lay-up at 69-69 with 1:10 remaining.
Rowsey made another steal on the next possession and fed Sam Hughes who was fouled at the 58-second mark. He made 1-of-2 free throws to put Asheville in front 70-69.
Liberty came down with a chance to take the lead. Davon Marshall drove the lane but had his shot blocked by Cunningham. He came down with the rebound and the Flames quickly fouled Corey Littlejohn with 27 seconds left.
But Littlejohn missed both free throws. Liberty came down and was trying to call a timeout when the Flames were called for an offensive foul. That earned Layer’s second technical foul and ejection at the 18-second mark.
Lane could only make 1-of-2 free throws off the technical to pad the lead to 71-69. Rowsey was fouled on the ensuing inbounds play and knocked down two free throws to push the Bulldogs margin to 73-69 with 15 seconds left.
The game was still not over. Marshall drew a foul on a three-point shot with 4.7 seconds remaining. He made all three free throws to carve the lead to 73-72.
Asheville got the ball to Rowsey who was fouled at the 1.8 second mark. He knocked down both charity tosses to push the margin to 75-72.
Liberty quickly got the ball to mid-court with 1.3 seconds left and called timeout. The Flames got the ball to Burrus who put up a 24-footer in front of the Liberty bench. His trey just rimmed out as the buzzer sounded giving the Dogs the win.
Asheville used red-hot shooting in the first half to take early control. The Bulldogs shot 69 percent (9-of-13) from beyond the arc in the first half as the home team raced to a 47-34 lead. Lane led Asheville with 15 points, while Rowsey knocked down four long treys, including one as the first-half buzzer sounded giving the Dogs the 13-point lead.
Burrus and Smith had 10 points each for Liberty.
The Bulldogs scored the first six points of the second half to build the lead to 53-34 on a lay-up from Lane at the 18:04 mark.
But Asheville went ice cold from the field as the Bulldogs did not get a field goal for 11 minutes. Liberty went on a 26-4 run over that period to take a 60-57 lead on a Smith dunk at the 8:20 mark.
The Flames maintained a small lead only Asheville rallied in the final two minutes.
Asheville went 0-for-7 from beyond the arc in the second and just 14-of-22 from the free throw line. Burrus led the comeback for Liberty with 12 points. Joe Restic added eight points.
UNC Asheville heads to Radford Thursday night for a game with the Highlanders that will be televised by ESPUN at 7 p.m. Liberty hosts Gardner-Webb Tuesday night at the Vines Center