The Liberty Flames opened their 2018-19 basketball season with an open exhibition game against the #15 Virginia Tech Hokies. Both teams took the floor raising $36,745 for those affected by Hurricanes Michael and Florence. The Vines Center was much louder than usual, and most of the lower seats were filled with an even mixture of LU students and VT fans.
The Flames started out slow from the field, but their defense was scrappy and consistent throughout the entire first half. After the first game jitters settled, the Flames found a rhythm, shooting 43% from the field, 6-7 from the free throw line, and added 7 first half threes. The Hokies of Virginia Tech looked stiff from the beginning, but their consistent shooting kept the game within 4 points the entire first half.
The Hokies also out-rebounded the Flames 19-9 in the first half, mostly because Coach McKay ran a 3 or 4 guard lineup for much of the first half. Sophomore G Elijah Cuffee led the Flames at the break with 9 points and went 3-4 from three, and Virginia Tech Freshman Isaiah Wilkins led all with 11 points, shooting 3-3 from the three point stripe.
The Flames started the 2nd half with sloppy play and going 1-7 from three stifled any offensive rhythm. At the 9 minute mark of the second half, the Flames were 1-8 from the field and had committed 5 ticky-tack fouls. Virginia Tech stepped up their defense in the second half and only allowed Liberty post players with 2 touches early in the second half.
“We weren’t very tough in the second half like we were in the first half. We have to maintain toughness throughout the entire game. They (Virginia Tech) are a good team, but we’re focused on us and what we need to do to get better” said sophomore guard Elijah Cuffee. Cuffee led the Flames in scoring with 15 points.
“We weren’t intimidated at all. We Played sloppy in the second half and need to clean things up” said junior forward Scottie James. James led a late game comeback for the Flames with a pair of AND 1’s, but the Hokies were very consistent at answering the Flames’ runs. James notched 13 points.
“Amazinf feeling to be out there. I’m very gratefull and blessed to be here” said graduate transfer Keenan Gumbs. In his debut game for the Flames, Gumbs added 13 points as well.
The Flames’ tough first half defense held Tech to 36 points, but unforced errors and cheap fouls led to 50 second half points for the Hokies.
The Flames officially open their first season in the Atlantic-Sun this Thursday November 8th as the Maine Fort-Kent Bengals visit the Vines Center. Tip-off is at 7 pm and can be viewed on ESPN+.