Liberty edges Lancers, 55-53

Published 4:37 pm Thursday, January 21, 2016

An overturned foul call at the buzzer put an end to a wild finish in Lynchburg, as Liberty survived a last-minute comeback to edge the Longwood University men’s basketball team 55-53 Tuesday evening.

Longwood (6-14, 2-5 Big South) trailed by nine points with 23 seconds remaining, but redshirt senior Tra’Vaughn White hit back-to-back three-pointers in a span of 2.7 seconds to trim that deficit to one point with eight seconds left.

Liberty freshman Lovell Cabbil hit the second of two free throw attempts with 6.3 seconds remaining to extend the Flames’ lead to 55-53, but White took the following inbounds pass, went coast to coast and drew a foul from Anthony Fields driving to the basket at the buzzer.

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Officials originally ruled the foul occurred before the buzzer, which would have sent White to the line for two free throws, but they immediately went to the replay monitor to review the play.

After several minutes of review and conference, they overturned the call, saying the foul was whistled after time expired.

“I thought the ball was gone before the horn blew,” said head coach Jayson Gee, who fell to 3-2 against Liberty in his three years at Longwood.

“I didn’t have a great view of it, but those things happen. Officials are in a tough situation, and they looked at it on film and made the call.”

Liberty (6-15, 3-5 Big South) hit 11 three-pointers and got 14 points from John Dawson, 12 from Cabbil and 11 from Caleb Homesley in the win, their first over the Lancers since Feb. 25, 2014.

The overturned call cut short a furious comeback in which the Lancers whittled away a double-digit deficit with a 15-7 run over the final 5:55. After Longwood forward Shaquille Johnson hit a layup with 16 seconds remaining to make it a seven-point game, Ezra Talbert missed back-to-back free throws and White responded with a three-pointer to cut Liberty’s lead to 54-50. A Liberty turnover on the ensuing inbounds pass returned the ball to Longwood, and White came through again with another three-pointer 2.7 seconds later.

White fouled Cabbil on the next inbounds pass, and the Liberty freshman hit the second of his two free throw attempts to increase the Flame lead to two points. White immediately received the inbounds pass and took off up court where the final play unfolded.

“I think I did [draw contact], but I honestly thought it was after the buzzer,” said White of the final play. “I figured if they looked at it, it would be game. I feel like I heard the whistle after the buzzer.”

White’s late-game heroics punctuated an 18-point effort that came despite suffering a significant ankle injury early in the first half. After being helped off the court by his teammates and treated by Longwood’s training staff, he returned to the court several minutes later and labored to three points on 1-of-7 shooting by halftime. He shook off the injury in time to erupt for 15 points in the second half on the way to his third straight game with at least 16 points.

“In the moment I was in a ton of pain,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I could get up, but I’ve been hurt all year. I really don’t have time for injuries right now.”

The wild finish overshadowed an off shooting night for the Lancers and an equally hot shooting night for the Flames (6-15, 3-5 Big South). Liberty went 11-of-28 from the three-point line, including a perfect 4-of-4 shooting night from Dawson, and led by at least six points for all but the final minute of the second half.

“It was a difficult night,” Gee said. “I thought poor shooting in the first half really dogged us. Give their defense some credit, but I thought we missed some open shots that we’ve been making. We didn’t shoot very well from the free throw line either…12-for-21 is not good enough to win close games.”

Longwood entered the rivalry matchup on a two-game win streak, coming off a 15-point win over reigning Big South champion Coastal Carolina at home and a 17-point win against Campbell on the road. The Lancers shot better than 50.0 percent from the field in both games but hit just 33.3 percent (17-of-51) from the field Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Liberty’s 11 three-pointers were the most Longwood has allowed since High Point hit 11 on Dec. 2.

“It was kind of lackluster defense,” said White, who added a career-high four steals Tuesday. “It just wasn’t our night. Things didn’t go our way in the end.”

White was one of three double-figure scorers for Longwood. Lotanna Nwogbo turned in his fifth double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Johnson finished with 12 points, two assists and four steals.

“It’s disheartening, but I’m proud of our guys’ effort, proud they didn’t give up and proud they fought back on the road and had a chance to tie the game,” Gee said. “That last play just didn’t go our way.”

Longwood returns to Willett Hall to host Big South foe Winthrop Saturday at 5 p.m.