Tiny Dancers: Liberty

Liberty, despite having 20 losses, is heading to the NCAA tournament. (Getty Images)
Liberty, despite having 20 losses, is heading to the NCAA tournament. (Getty Images)

We have our first true Cinderella story of March.

Liberty, which went 11-20 during the regular season and finished tied for fifth in the North division of the Big South, upset top-seeded Charleston <span data-shortcode=" data-canon="Southern Jaguars" data-type="SPORTS_OBJECT_TEAM" id="shortcode0"> 87-76 to win the conference tournament and the automatic bid. John Caleb Sanders had 27 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while Davon Marshall knocked in six 3-pointers en route to 20 points. Tavares Speaks chipped in with 18 points and nine boards.

The Flames weren’t as bad as their record suggested during the season, despite losing their first 10 games against Division-I competition this year. Seven of their losses were by five points or fewer, including five of their 10 conference losses. They figured out how to win close games in the Big South tournament, though, knocking off host Coastal Carolina and then squeaking past High Point and Gardner-Webb by a combined four points -- before knocking off Charleston Southern in the title game.

Liberty becomes only the second team to earn a bid with 20 losses, and this is head coach Dale Layer’s first NCAA tournament since making the move to Liberty in 2009-10.

Welcome to the NCAA tournament, Liberty. And enjoy Dayton.

Player to know: John Caleb Sanders. The junior guard from Texas came up big in the title game, and he’s been a key player for the Flames all season. He led the team in scoring, but also contributed nearly four rebounds and four assists per game, while finding ways to score in different ways. He gets to the free-throw line and puts pressure on the defense.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 15-20 overall, 6-10 in Big South
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2004
  • Jerry Palm predicts: 16 seed
  • KenPom ranking: 257
  • Sagarin ranking: 265
  • RPI: 299
  • Best wins: Gardner-Webb, Charleston Southern
  • Worst losses: Howard, Presbyterian
  • Notable stat: Liberty is one of the best teams in the country at guarding the perimeter shot. The Flames rank No. 20 in the nation in opponent’s three-point field goal percentage, as teams shoot just 29.6 percent from behind the arc against them on the season. Charleston Southern only went 9 for 28 from 3-point range in the title game.

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