LYNCHBURG, VA. — Big time players hit big time shots.
Junior guard Francis Alonso is a big time player. On Saturday afternoon, Alonso hit big shot after big shot for the UNC Greensboro Spartans, who were in a dog fight on the road against the Liberty Flames.
Liberty held an 11-point lead with under five minutes to play, but the Spartans launched a comeback, one that saw Alonso hit a clutch shot in the closing seconds of regulation to send the game to overtime. They needed three overtime periods, but Alonso made sure that UNCG was the team that came out on top when all was said and done.
Alonso recorded a career-high 36 points, but none were bigger than his game-winning three pointer in the third overtime with 2.4 seconds left on the clock. The Spartans clawed back in regulation to force extra time, and came away with the hard-fought 76-75 win over Liberty on Saturday afternoon.
Saturday marked Alonso’s third 30+ point game this season. He was 10-of-31 from the field, and 7-of-19 from three point range. Fellow guard Isaiah Miller came off the bench to add 13 points and five steals in the win.
Scottie James became Liberty’s first player since 2014 to record three straight double-doubles, scoring 19 points and grabbing 15 rebounds in the loss. Lovell Cabbil added 16 points and six rebounds, while Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz chipped in with 13 points and four steals of his own.
With 12 seconds left in regulation, Cabbil hit a pair of free throws to give Liberty a three-point lead. On the next possession, Alonso hit a three point jumper to the game up at 52-all.
Cabbil missed a three pointer at the buzzer, and the contest was off to overtime. After the first overtime, the game was all knotted up at 58-all, as a pair of free throws from James brought the Flames even with the Spartans.
The second overtime was all about Alonso. He scored all 12 points for the Spartans in the frame, including another big three pointer in the closing seconds to tie the game at 70-all, thus sending the game to a third overtime.
In the third overtime period, Alonso still had some late-game heroics left in him.
Jordy Kuiper opened the frame with a pair of free throws to put the Spartans ahead by two. One made free throw from Caleb Homesley and a pair from Alonso saw the Spartans take a 74-71 lead with just 1:50 to play.
Isaiah Williams threw down a dunk, and Ryan Kemrite hit a pair of free throws to give the Flames a 75-74 lead with just nine ticks left on the clock.
On the ensuing inbounds play, Alonso let the ball roll to mid-court before he picked it up. He made a move to get by his defender, and hit a fadeaway jumper in the lane to put the Spartans ahead by one with just 2.4 seconds to play. Liberty wasn’t able to get a shot off before the buzzer sounded, and UNC Greensboro picked up a thrilling 76-75 win over the Flames.
It was the first triple-overtime game in Liberty men’s basketball history. Both teams went back-and-forth all afternoon long, with Liberty’s lead of 11 points being the biggest advantage held by either team throughout the contest.
The loss brought an end to the three-game winning streak for Liberty (5-3). They head on the road for a date with the Georgia State Panthers on Monday night.
With the win, UNC Greensboro (5-3) put an end to their mini two-game slide. The Spartans return home to host the Elon Phoenix on Thursday night, thus opening a two game home stand.
– T. Bennett