|75 Years of Shining Moments Correspondent: Christopher Morris|
Meet the longest of long shots, the Liberty Flames; who have pulled off the nearly impossible: they are going dancing with 20 losses. For only the second time in history, a 20 loss team will be in the field of 68.
Liberty lost their first eight games; but this team of scrappy, undersized underdogs put it all together when it counted most. By winning four games in six days to capture the Big South tournament title, the Flames return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2004. Flames' coach Dale Layer is no stranger to the NCAA's, having led Colorado State to the Tournament in 2003. But that Rams team did not have to overcome as much as his Liberty team has. After winning the Big South crown, Coach Layer praised his squad for being able to "grind it out in the face of adversity."
On the court, the Flames were led by the backcourt duo of John Caleb Sanders and Davon Marshall. With a gritty performance Marshall was awarded the tournament MVP by averaging 18.0 ppg and shooting an improbable 70.8 % from three-point territory. Sanders led the Flames in scoring for the season with 14.2 ppg, followed by Marshall with 13.4 ppg. The 6-foot junior guard Sanders comes from a family line of gym rats. His brother Thomas earned AP All-American Honorable Mention honors at Gardner-Webb in 2008. John also played alongside his brother Jesse for two seasons with the Flames. Soon after Jesse's departure, John stepped into the leaders' role for Coach Layer.
The experience paid off in the Big South title game against Charleston Southern when; despite a sprained ankle, Sanders scored a career-high 27 points en route to a 87-76 win. After the upset, Sanders said, "We've played four of our best games in these four games of the tournament. Talk about peaking at the exact right time." As the players and cheerleaders rushed the court and cut down the nets, no one could have agreed more. Thus Liberty capped off the most remarkable run in Big South tournament history.
Liberty will be facing North Carolina A & T in a First Round play-in game in Dayton, OH Tuesday night. If their luck holds out, they will face No. 1 seed Louisville four days later.
Meanwhile, the Liberty players, coaches, students, and alumni can bask in their Big South Tournament Championship. Twenty losses or not...they are chasing more Shining Moments this week!