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Big South Opening Round: Winthrop Knocks Off Defending Champs 77-65

Liberty entered today's game as the Big South defending champs and were hoping for another strong run for the tournament. Pat Kelsey's Winthrop Eagles had another plan as a late run would power the Eagles to a big opening round win.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Last year the story in Myrtle Beach was the miraculous run by a losing Liberty Flames team to go on a four game win streak to steal the Big South title. Liberty set out to do that again today as the five seed in the North Divisions in taking on the fourth seeded team from the South Division Winthrop.

Liberty looked like another run might be in the cards from the start of the game as Liberty jumped out to an early 17-5 lead. Pat Kelsey responded by going to his bench and sparked a 30-12 run to end the half. Winthrop also grabbed a great deal of momentum as Keon Johnson nailed a tear drop runner as time expired in the first half.

To Liberty's credit they battle back in the second half and the game was tied at 51 at the under eight media timeout. The Eagles would come out on a 8-0 run though courtesy of two big three balls from Keon Johnson. Liberty kept creeping close to the Eagles' lead but it seemed as if Winthrop had a back-breaker for every punch Liberty threw. Andre Smith had one of those back-breakers with a three pointer with just over five minutes left and Joab Jerome had an old fashioned three point play at the under four timeout that served a similar purpose.

The big shots from Johnson, Smith, and Jerome were too much for the Flames to overcome and Winthrop would eventually cruise to a 77-65 victory. The two Keons, Johnson and Moore, paced the Eagles. Johnson posted 15 points, while Moore had 14 points and 8 rebounds.  Winthrop also went 21-for-21 from the free throw line.

Liberty was lead by Andrew Smith with 17 points and 6 rebounds, while Joe Retic added 15 points and 4 assists. The good news for Flames' fans is that both of those players will be back, despite Liberty graduating six seniors from this game.

Winthrop now moves on to face Big South Player of the Year John Brown and his High Point Panthers at noon on Friday.

Liberty now enters an offseason with a lot of question marks, including whether or not if Dale Layer will remain as the Flames coach.