After starting the season 19-1, the Liberty Flames have hit their first bit of adversity this season in losing consecutive games in Florida this past weekend. It’s the first time Liberty has lost consecutive games as an ASUN member after winning 22-of-24 league games in the first two seasons since moving over from the Big South.
“We only have three losses on the season,” ASUN Preseason Player of the Year Caleb Homesley said as he was asked about the two game losing streak. “It doesn’t define us.”
Following the losses to North Florida and Stetson, the Flames find themselves in a first place tie atop the ASUN standings with the Ospreys and Hatters at 5-2 in conference play. UNF and Stetson face each other Thursday night as Liberty hosts 1-19 Kennesaw State as the first-half of ASUN play comes to a close.
“No one likes to lose a basketball game,” Homesley continued. “It’s tough losing games, but for us it’s a learning experience. We just want to get back in the gym and get better.”
A week ago, the Flames were receiving votes in the AP Top 25 poll and had a NET rankings in the 20, good enough to elicit at-large discussion if the team were to falter in the ASUN Tournament. That opportunity is now gone as Liberty is currently ranked No. 73 in the NET. There’s only one way to get back to the NCAA Tournament and that’s through securing the ASUN automatic bid.
“We have a long way to go in reaching our full potential,” said Scottie James. “Going into the two games, maybe we felt a little too high on ourselves, but either way both those teams played well. First game, we didn’t play well defensively. 2nd game, we didn’t play well offensively. As long as we’re playing right, we’re confident against anybody. We’re focused on trying to get better everyday.”
Over the past two seasons, this program has raised the expectations to such a level that a single loss on the road to a conference opponent can make a drastic impact. It wasn’t long ago that Liberty was the team ranked in the 300s trying to spring an upset. Now, the opposite is true.
“Our guys were really disappointed, anyone who is part of Flames Nation, I think, was hurt, distraught by the loss,” said McKay. “In reality, I think it’s a little bit of an indictment against Stetson. They are having a good year. They won at South Carolina. They are a better team than they have been in the past, but given all that we had done, I get the magnitude of the loss and what it would appear (at this point in the season), but it happens. I think the bigger question will be how do we respond.”
Liberty gets its first chance to respond on Thursday night in the Vines Center as the Flames play host to Kennesaw State. Under first year head coach Amir Abdur-Rahim, the Owls are 1-19 overall and 0-7 in ASUN play.
“I wish we could have made a couple of buckets (against Stetson), but we didn’t,” said McKay. “We’ve got to be careful to not have scoreboard based identity because what if we didn’t go on a 7 out of 8 stretch against Akron, or what if we would have lost the lead against Radford, or we wouldn’t have come back against Vandy. Would we be in any different position if we didn’t beat Vandy, East Carolina, whatever? I just think we raised the expectation level so much that these losses seem a little bit more devastating than they really are.”