Niagara Gazette

Sports

March 18, 2013

PROVING GROUND

Niagara Gazette — Davon Marshall realized his dream this winter, becoming the starting point guard for Liberty University after years of being told he wasn't good enough to play at the Division I level.

The Niagara Falls Ghost, as his teammates call him, never stopped dreaming. Liberty started the season 0-8 and entered the Big South tournament with 20 losses and and RPI rating around 300. They were the 10th-place team in a one-bid league.

And here they are now, on the doorstep of the Big Dance.

"It was a little surreal at first, but now it's kind of set in," Marshall said. "It's just a blessing."

Liberty will play North Carolina A&T tonight (6:40 p.m., truTV) in Dayton, Ohio as part of the first four play-in games. With a win, the Flames will earn a No. 16 seed and a Thursday matchup with the NCAA tournament's No. 1 overall seed, Louisville, in Lexington, Ky.

The website kenpom.com calculates Liberty's chances of winning the NCAA championship at 1 in 4 billion. Those might be shorter odds than the Flames had of making the postseason after their tumultuous start.

They started the year with two injured starters, and after losing the opener by 42 points, learned that their top player from the year before would remain out for the entire season. Two more rotation players quit the team. An assistant coach was placed on administrative leave after he plead guilty to attempted possession of a controlled substance.

All before Liberty earned its first win.

"Sometimes I would just think ahead to my senior year," Marshall said recently. "Maybe just put this year behind me. But every day coach was telling us not to give up."

Through all the tumult, Marshall emerged as the team's leader in minutes played (32 per game), second-leading scorer (13.4 ppg), second-leading assist man (2.8) and top shooter from 3-point range (43.3 percent) and the foul line (84.9 percent).

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