FLAMES BACK AT HOME
It’s been nearly a month since Liberty has been able to play from the friendly confines of Liberty Arena and in Lynchburg, Virginia. The Flames last played at home on Friday and Saturday Jan. 8-9 against Kennesaw State. Liberty will be back on their home floor this weekend for one game against Lancaster Bible College after originally being scheduled to host North Florida for a pair of games. Those games were postponed due to COVID issues at North Florida.
“Great,” Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay said when asked how it feels to be back playing at home. “There was a pause there that was unexpected. There has never been a time in our season that we would go 13 days between games, but this is a year where everything is subject to change. I really admire our guys for the attitude and the disposition they had in that time away from games. Then, to come back and grind two wins out against a good Jacksonville team I thought it was really good, but you’ve just seen a little bit more of an upbeat attitude in practice because they are in familiar territory. I do think that our guys will be appreciative of the opportunity to play in the Arena because its such a fabulous place. Like everyone else, we just wish we could have a few fans in there because I think this game would warrant close to capacity filling of the Arena.”
Provided Liberty is able to play all of their ASUN regular season games (which is certainly in doubt right now), the Flames will play six of their final eight conference games at home. LU currently owns the second longest active home win streak in the country, having win 31 straight at home. Liberty’s last home loss came on Jan. 29, 2019 against Lipscomb, and the Flames have never lost at Liberty Arena, winning all eight games inside the new facility.
PARITY IN THE ASUN
Midway through ASUN play, there are five teams separated by just one game at the top of the conference standings. This is contrast to the first two seasons Liberty was in the ASUN. Two years ago, Liberty and Lipscomb finished tied for first at 14-2 with third place 5 games behind the Flames and Bisons. It was a similar scenario a year ago when the Flames and North Florida Ospreys finished tied for first at 13-3 with third place coming in four games behind the two.
“The addition of Bellarmine makes it much more competitive,” said McKay. “You might think, well they came from Division II, but mind you they had a successful, well run program that has an established culture. They were going to be competitive. We took a peak at them last year and this summer, and we knew they were going to be near the top. Coach Davenport does a great job.”
The Knights are in their first season competing in the ASUN and at the DI level, and Bellarmine is currently tied for first place with Liberty and North Alabama.
“Tony Pujol’s in his third year has really got their program in a really healthy place,” McKay said of North Alabama. “Then, you’ve got the usual suspects Lipscomb, North Florida. Tony Jasick’s doing a great job with (Jacksonville) they just caught the injury bug, and honestly Kennesaw is no pushover. We’ve seen that they’ve taken a few teams to the wire including some of the teams that are at the top of the standings.”
“I just think it’s going to be a wild, wild ASUN in the last four weeks of the season and the conference tournament.”
ASUN & REALIGNMENT
A week ago the ASUN officially announced the additions of three new members and the addition of FCS football. Central Arkansas, Jacksonville State, and Eastern Kentucky will join the league beginning next season as the conference will move to divisions to accommodate its 12 members.
“I only really know one of the coaches really well and that’s Anthony Boone at Central Arkansas,” McKay said. “He’s a really, really good coach and a great person. I know they’ve had some good players come through that program, including Scottie Pippen. I feel like they will have a chance to be good when they get to the league if they’re not already, I haven’t followed them much. I know Jacksonville State, Coach Harper, has a really good program already, (EKU coach) A.W. (Hamilton) is someone I have a ton of respect for as a high school coach. He coached at Hargrave. I’ve watched them once or twice. They are having a fabulous season. I think they are ranked in the College Insider Mid-Major poll in the top 15.”
“I think they obviously are going to add value. I think the decision was probably related to football, as I understand, but having 12 teams in the league makes it harder to win, obviously, but I think the more competitive we get the better.”
LIBERTY TO HONOR COACH MCLENDON THIS WEEKEND
For Friday night’s game, Liberty will pay homage to Coach John McLendon. His team went on to win the NAIA Division I men’s tournament for three consecutive seasons from 1957-1959. He was enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016. College Insider has created “Eracism, a social inclusion movement committed to bringing forth change through education, awareness, and action with current and former college basketball coaches leading the way.”
“John McLendon was an unbelievable coach,” said McKay. “This weekend, as a celebration of what he meant to the game, I feel very impassioned about honoring him and the legacy that he had. He was a terrific coach, an innovator in the game. He started the uptempo, fast-paced style of play that many have copied. He was really, really passionate about social change. Our guys are going to wear a racism shirt, both North Florida and us are doing it. I think there are other schools around the country. I just think it’s a neat way to celebrate a man’s legacy who was really intentional about the right stuff.”