Liberty nips at Heels, but Carolina pulls away

March 19, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- Liberty came into USAir Arena yesterday praying for a miracle. For 30 minutes at least, the Flames got their wish.

There was Liberty, a small Baptist school in Lynchburg, Va., making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament, hanging with the titans of North Carolina. There was Liberty, taking a 46-45 lead with 10 minutes left on a three-point basket by guard Chris Toomer.

Did it bother the Tar Heels? The defending national champions buckled down on defense, turned their inside power loose and ruined Liberty's dream with 16 unanswered points over the next seven minutes, and North Carolina ran away with a 71-51 victory in the first round of the East Regional.

"We're disappointed, yet in our disappointment we know all things work toward the good. We'd like to think the nation caught a glimpse of what Liberty University is about," said Liberty coach Jeff Meyer, whose 16th-seeded Flames finished 18-12.

Top-seeded North Carolina (28-6) moved on to tomorrow's second-round matchup against ninth-seeded Boston College.

"They just keep coming at you until they get an advantage, and when they get an advantage, they just grind you up."

The Tar Heels took their time taking care of business. North Carolinacame out uninspired, and was outplayed in the opening minutes by the Flames, who worked the ball smartly on offense, blocked four shots early and rallied to take a 20-16 lead midway through the first half.

North Carolina came back to lead by six at the half, but fou three-pointers helped Liberty to a 40-36 advantage with 15:05 left. Five minutes later the Flames were holding on, 46-45, when Carolina began its decisive 16-0 run.

Senior center Eric Montross (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Wallace (18 points, 10 rebounds), a freshman forward, sparked the surge. They were the focal points of a defense that wore down Liberty on the boards -- North Carolina out-rebounded Liberty, 49-31 -- and wore out the Flames' shooters. Liberty hit eight of its first 16 shots, but made only 10 of 46 after that. The Tar Heels made 51.7 percent of their shots in the second half and went 20-for-24 at the foul line.

Liberty point guard Matt Hildebrand, playing in his final college game, led all scorers with 20 points on 6-for-16 shooting, including 5-for-13 from three-point range.

"We got off to a slow start, but you have to give Liberty credit for that," Montross said. "I thought that, since this was their first NCAA tournament game, they would have the jitters, but they played a tremendous game."


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