LYNCHBURG, Va. -- Despite being the third seed in the Big South Conference tournament, UMBC couldn't overcome a partisan tournament-record crowd or Liberty's Jason Dixon and was eliminated in the opening round of the Big South tournament last night, 57-54.
Dixon scored 19 points and Peter Aluma added 13 and converted a three-point play with 1:12 to play that gave Liberty a 55-54 lead lead it wouldn't relinquish.
The 7,253 fans who packed Liberty's Vines Center formed the largest crowd ever to see a Big South tournament game.
"The crowd obviously helped Liberty because they don't lose very much at home," said UMBC coach Earl Hawkins. "We've only beaten them here one time and that was this year. But this crowd was louder and bigger than the one that was here when we played during the regular season. But that's the way this tournament is set up, so we can't use that as an excuse."
The record crowd watched a back-and-forth affair that wasn't decided until Artie Walker's open three-point attempt came up short at the buzzer.
"Artie didn't have time to set himself as well as he would have liked, but that was about as good a shot as we could have asked for," Hawkins said. "It just came up a little short."
Liberty led 50-47 with 2:36 to go until Walker, who had been scoreless, drilled back-to-back three-pointers to put UMBC ahead 53-52. But after Liberty's Larry Jackson missed a three-point attempt, Aluma rebounded and hit a short jumper while being fouled by the Retrievers' Pascal Fleury. Aluma hit the free throw for the decisive point.
Fleury recorded a tournament-record eight blocked shots, but he got mostly arm on Aluma's key shot.