CONWAY, S.C. Liberty coach Dale Layer doesn’t care how many losses it took to get his players to the NCAA tournament.
The Flames became just the second 20-loss team to reach college basketball’s marquee event, beating Charleston Southern 87-76 Sunday to win the Big South title. Liberty opened the season with eight straight losses and had never won more than three in a row until this week, yet it joined Coppin State in 2008 as the only schools with 20 or more defeats in the field of 68.
The Flames’ .429 winning percentage (15-20) is the lowest for an NCAA tournament team since Oakland (Michigan) had a 12-18 record (.400) in 2005.
“That’s awesome,” the fourth-year coach said of his team. “We’ve got the hats, right?”
The Flames finished their best stretch of basketball this year, winning their fifth in a row – and their fourth game since Tuesday – to take their first Big South tournament crown since 2004. John Caleb Sanders led the way with 27 points and tournament MVP Davon Marshall had 20 off six 3-pointers.
Marshall and Sanders got things going in a hurry against top-seeded Charleston Southern (19-12) with 3-pointers in the first 90 seconds – and the Flames barely lost their outside touch. Marshall was 6 of 7 from beyond the arc and Liberty finished 9 of 18 on long-range baskets.
Liberty defeated home-standing Coastal Carolina and both Big South divisional winners in High Point and Charleston Southern. Sanders said the team began to believe when they topped the Chanticleers 78-61.
“When you can beat Coastal by 20 on their home floor, we knew we could beat anybody in this tournament,” Sanders said.