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Liberty women's basketball sees home winning streak end in loss to Memphis
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Liberty women's basketball sees home winning streak end in loss to Memphis

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Jordan Bailey got the look Liberty wanted in the paint with two seconds showing on the clock. Her right-handed hook shot from just outside the restricted circle lofted above the outstretched arms of Memphis defenders. It was on target, but the shot was too soft and barely grazed the rim before being corralled by Memphis’ Jamirah Shutes.

The final buzzer sounded. For the first time in nearly two years, the Liberty women’s basketball team walked off its home court with a loss.

Shutes scored a game-high 16 points, and Bailey’s last-second shot didn’t fall as Memphis edged Liberty 53-51 on Tuesday evening before an announced crowd of 627 inside Liberty Arena.

The loss is the first for the Flames (3-1) this season and ends a 20-game home winning streak that was the fourth-longest in NCAA Division I women’s basketball.

Liberty’s last loss in Lynchburg came on Feb. 1, 2019, against FGCU inside the Vines Center.

It is the first setback for either the men’s or women’s basketball team inside Liberty Arena.

“It definitely stings, especially because it was such a winnable game,” Liberty forward Mya Berkman said. “We’ve got to clean up some things on defense and execute on offense. We didn’t do that well enough tonight.”

The Flames burned all three timeouts to get into their offense in the final 10 seconds.

Priscilla Smeenge got the first look at tying the game, but her drive to the basket was blocked off by Memphis’ Alana Davis, and Davis blocked Smeenge’s shot from the left block that went out of bounds with 3.6 seconds remaining.

The subsequent inbounds pass went to Bailey, who took one dribble, pivoted and lofted her shot up. It barely reached the front of the rim, where it fell into Shutes’ hands to seal the victory for the Tigers (4-1).

“It was a called play, we executed it well, had some good screens, we got the ball in her hands, and we just missed too many layups. That was a 2-foot shot there,” Liberty coach Carey Green said. “She normally makes that. I think there was a little hesitation. … We got the ball where we wanted it, should have scored that and we should have been playing in overtime.”

The back-and-forth matchup featured nine lead changes and five ties. It also was the third straight game played by Liberty decided by five points or loss.

“The past couple of games it’s come down to the wire with all of them. We’re just really looking at what we could do better, honestly," Smeenge said. "Our biggest thing is how we respond as a team. Collectively, we’re focusing on responding the right way with the right attitude."

The Flames edged Ohio by three in regulation on Nov. 13 and pulled away late to top James Madison by five in overtime this past Thursday.

“As a fifth-year senior, I haven’t been on a team where we had this many close games,” Smeenge said.

Berkman led the Flames with 14 points and five rebounds. She shot 6 of 9 from the field and scored five straight points in the fourth quarter to give the Flames a 50-49 lead with 3:35 remaining.

Maya Stovall and Emani Jefferson hit back-to-back baskets to put Memphis ahead 53-50 with 1:15 remaining, and Berkman only hit 1 of 2 free throws with 56.1 seconds left to cut the deficit to two.

Berkman was 2 of 4 from the charity stripe in the final 3:35.

“We were not totally comfortable [and] as we addressed, ... we’ve got to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Green said. “Some of our execution wasn’t as clean as we wanted.”

Smeenge scored nine point,s and Dee Brown finished with eight points while battling foul trouble.

Stovall sored nine points for Memphis. The Tigers’ bench outscored Liberty's by 12 points.

“The difference, I think, was their bench was more effective than ours,” Green said. “We have to be more effective coming off the bench.”

Green also pointed to a disastrous second quarter in which the Flames shot 3 of 13 from the field, scored six points and entered halftime trailing 28-21.

“The second quarter was devastating for us, giving up that many points,” he said. “ … We couldn’t overcome that second quarter.”

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