CONWAY, S.C. — Liberty coach Dale Layer doesn’t care how many losses it took to get his players to the NCAA Tournament. Niagara Falls High School graduate Davon Marshall no doubt doesn’t either.
Marshall was named tournament MVP on Sunday after he helped Liberty to an 87-76 triumph over Charleston Southern in the championship game of the Big South Conference Tournament near Myrtle Beach.
Marshall scored 20 points in the victory, which gave the Flames the Big South’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Tournament.
Liberty (15-20) is only the second team ever to qualify for the Big Dance with 20 losses on the record. The other was Coppin State (Md.) in 2008.
Liberty began its season 0-8, but won its last five games, including four in the conference tournament to qualify. The Flames began the tournament by defeating host Coastal Carolina by 20 points on its home floor.
The Flames’ .429 winning percentage is the lowest for an NCAA Tournament team since Oakland (Michigan) had a 12-18 record (.400) in 2005.
“That’s awesome,” the fourth-year coach said of his team. “We’ve got the hats, right?”
Yes, you do, Coach.
“Coach always instilled in us that we had the talent to win it,” Marshall said. “He told us every day that he believed in us, and we finally bought in and were able to get the win today.”
The Flames finished their best stretch of basketball this year, winning their fifth in a row – and their fourth game since Tuesday – to take their first Big South Tournament crown since 2004. John Caleb Sanders led the way with a career-high 27 points.
Marshall, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound junior transfer from Monroe College in New York City, made 6 of 7 from three-point range in the victory. He set a Big South championship record for most three-pointers in the tournament, going 17 of 24.
He is now second on Liberty’s single-season three-point list with 101 and needs just two more to surpass the 102 made by Seth Curry in 2009. Curry now plays for Duke.
“I really wasn’t thinking about the record, I was just trying to win this weekend,” Marshall said. “So hopefully I can break it.”
For the season, Marshall is averaging 13.4 points and his three-point shooting percentage is .433. He also is an 84.9 percent free-throw shooter.
Marshall and Sanders got things going in a hurry over top-seeded Charleston Southern (19-12) with three-pointers in the first 90 seconds – and the Flames barely lost their outside touch, finishing 9 of 18 from beyond the arc.
Count on Liberty being near the bottom of the 68 NCAA seeds and a likely candidate for the tournament’s first-four contests.