Jones’ 3-pointer lifts Radford past Liberty, 55-52; puts Highlanders in NCAA Tournament

RADFORD, Va. (AP) — Carlik Jones had clear instructions: Take the final shot of regulation and leave no time on the clock for Liberty to counter.
The freshman did just that, and swished a 3-pointer at the buzzer on Sunday, giving Radford a 55-52 victory in the Big South Conference championship and its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2009.
The result, Jones said, was better than the Highlanders’ execution.
Radford (22-12) called timeout with 13 seconds left, setting up the final play. It was meant to be a double screen, but as Jones dribbled away the time, one of his teammates forgot his role, forcing Jones to make his move with about three seconds remaining.
“I had to let it go,” he said. “You shoot it, and I looked at it after a while and I was like, ‘That’s good,'” he said.
“It’s one of the greatest feelings ever.”
Officials reviewed the play to be sure no time was left on the clock, and once that was confirmed, Radford fans began celebrating.
Jones had 13 points and six assists to lead the Highlanders, who’ll carry a seven-game winning streak into the tournament. Travis Fields Jr. added 12 points on 4-for-4 shooting from 3-point range and Ed Polite Jr. and Devonnte Holland had 11 each.
The Highlanders, in their seventh season under coach Mike Jones, were picked to finish seventh in the preseason.
“Everybody’s shocked because nobody believed in us but Radford,” Polite said. “We played with that chip on our shoulder the whole year.”
Mike Jones choked up talking about the path his career has taken. Hired away from VCU after being an assistant under Shaka Smart when the Rams made their Final Four run in 2011, he took over a program that had won just five games the previous year and was losing players.
“It’s been a long road,” he said, noting that the victory evened his career record at 115-115.
Scottie James had 20 points, 16 after halftime, and 13 rebounds to lead the Flames (20-14), who lost to Radford for the third time this season. Lovell Cabbil added 15 points, but missed a 3-pointer to set up the Highlanders’ final possession. He also was defending Jones on his game-winner.
“He hit a tough shot,” Cabbil said. “I thought I got a decent contest. He just made a big shot at the right moment.”
Holland did all his scoring in the first half, including six points during a 10-4 run that broke a 14-all tie late in the first half.
The Highlanders led 26-21 at halftime.
Liberty: The Flames hurt their cause with 15 turnovers that Radford turned into 18 points. Liberty scored 11 off seven Radford turnovers.
Radford: Holland led the Highlanders with seven rebounds and kept them in the game as Polite, their scoring leader at 13.6 per game, went scoreless in the first half while saddled with foul trouble. Fields hit three 3-pointers in the second half and Jones’ game-winner was Radford’s only other one in 12 attempts.
Liberty will hope for an invitation to the NIT.
Radford heads to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years.
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