LYNHCBURG, Va. -- No. 17 Connecticut used a stiff defense and an opportunistic offense to defeat No. 25 Liberty on Sunday afternoon, snapping the Flames 26-game home winning streak that stretched back four years.
Fresh off the euphoria of Friday night's upset of seventh-ranked Florida State, Liberty sprung out to a 2-0 lead with back-to-back goals in a span of 22 seconds early in the first quarter. Liberty midfielder Derrick Esh found attackman Caleb Britton cutting in the left side of the box where he ripped a turnaround shot past Connecticut goalie Drew Duarte just 46 seconds after the opening faceoff.
The Huskies (3-2) won the ensuing faceoff, but the Flames' defense stole the ball back, allowing Gregory to set up attackman Nick Lombardozzi for a point-blank bounce shot through traffic at the 13:52 mark.
After Blake Feagles scored the first of his two first-half goals to get the Huskies on the scoreboard, Liberty goalie Ryan Reynolds made a save, eventually resulting in another turnaround shot from Britton for a 3-1 Flames advantage.
Reynolds made two sensational saves of low shots by UConn leading scorer Brett LeClair, sacrificing his body to smother the submarine missiles before Feagles sneaked a bounce shot past him from the left side at the 11:31 mark of the second quarter.
Britton responded a minute later by completing his hat trick off assists from Gregory for a 4-2 advantage before UConn attackman Cam Criniti capitalized on a miscue deep in the Flames' defensive end to draw his team within 4-3 before the half.
The Huskies, who lost another defensive-oriented contest to FSU on Saturday, 8-7, tied the Flames less than a minute and a half into the third quarter when Criniti shoveled in a shot off a fast-break feed from midfielder Matt Crowe. Crowe gave UConn its first lead at 5-4 by capitalizing on a man-up situation with a wicked ground ball shot past Reynolds.
Liberty converted on a man advantage to level the score at 5-5 when Elliott struck quickly top shelf off an assist from Britton with 2:10 left in the quarter. However, the Huskies reclaimed a lead which they would not relinquish in the final 0.5 seconds of the third quarter on a spectacular play set up by a nearly full-field baseball outlet pass from Duarte to Criniti.
The attackman caught the Hail Mary-type assist just beyond the Flames' defense and quickly turned toward the cage and put his buzzer-beating shot into the upper netting past Reynolds for a 6-5 advantage.
After UConn extended its lead to 7-5 on a scoop shot by Richard Rorick, the Flames had a golden opportunity to get back in the game when the Huskies were called for one- and two-minute penalties simultaneously. Britton capitalized on a Gregory assist less than 20 seconds into the extra-man situation, but Liberty turned the ball over and was called for two penalties of its own, leading to UConn's final two goals by Feagles assisted by Ben Hamel and Will Garbus assisted by Jack Templeton.
The Flames did hit a few posts with shots in the waning minutes of the game and Duarte made a number of spectacular saves of his own, but Liberty’s attack lacked its usual firepower, especially playing on its home turf.