TALKING ABOUT THE SCHEDULE
This summer, Liberty had just about finalized its non-conference schedule before the NCAA pushed the start date of the season back to Nov. 25 and the Flames lost five games and then had 3-4 other teams cancel their scheduled games with Liberty in the midst of the ongoing COVID pandemic. In the midst of the schedule changes, the Flames lost roughly $150,000 in guarantee money.
The revised non-conference slate was released earlier this week and gone were games against East Carolina, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, Radford, and others. The Flames also lost an early season tournament in High Point and two preseason scrimmages. That’s a lot to overcome with a young team.
“Truth be told, I think our schedule for this coming season is as good as its been,” said Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay. “You rarely get an invite to play in a prestigious tournament with the likes of Purdue, Mississippi State, and Clemson. Then, we’re headed to Bubbleville in Connecticut to play Siena at the Mohegan Sun who is preseason number one in their league.”
Following the road trip with three games in less than a week, the Flames will return home to play six of the next seven games to wrap up non-conference play before the ASUN schedule begins New Year’s Day.
“That was strategic,” said McKay. “We wanted to try to stay closer to home, or at home, from mid-December on knowing the league schedule was going to start after Christmas.”
Liberty does play four non-Division I schools, a high for a McKay-led Flames team and the most for Liberty in a single season since the 2014-15 campaign under Dale Layer.
“The non-I’s, honestly, in a year where we’re opening a brand new arena and we have five of our top 11 who have never played a game for Liberty, I wanted the inventory,” said McKay. “Remember now, we don’t get scrimmages or exhibitions and then our schedule has been reduced by four games. So, that’s six opportunities in the preseason that we won’t be afforded. It’s really difficult to schedule in our current state, and, I’m not making excuses, in some ways it’s a backhanded compliment because we are known an awful lot. I feel like we did the best we could given the circumstances.”
LIBERTY ARENA READY FOR DEBUT
The Liberty men’s basketball team officially moved into the brand new Liberty Arena this past week. The Arena, built adjacent to the Vines Center, will serve as the new home for Liberty men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball. McKay’s team will play its first game in the new facility on Dec. 3 against St. Francis (PA).
“It’s fabulous,” McKay said of the new home. “It is a big time facility. We are really blessed, very honored that the administration thinks enough of us, women’s basketball, volleyball, to make this happen. I think it’s going to end up being a phenomenal home court advantage. I wish we didn’t have the restrictions that we do have because I think it’s going to be electric in there when it’s full. It’s going to help in the evolution of our program. We bring a recruit in that venue, he’s going to say, ‘Woah this is special.’ Not saying the Vines wasn’t, but when you see this you will know what I’m talking about.”
The rest of the team spoke glowingly about the new facility as well.
“One thing I can say, we shot really well in there,” Cuffee said with a smile. “That’s a good thing.”
In total, Liberty is scheduled to play 15 regular season games at Liberty Arena this season.
Elijah Cuffee on his role this season – “I’m just going to go out there and do whatever we need to win the game. At the end of the day, if that requires me taking more shots or taking less, I just want to go out there and win the game.”
Cuffee on Keegan McDowell returning – “Keegan’s been a blessing. To come back, I’m glad he’s back. My best friend, always good to play with one of your best friends.”
Kyle Rode on moving on without the four seniors – “It will be a good different. You got guys that are developing every day, working hard, whatever we need to do to win. We’re going to be all in.”
Darius McGhee – “Everyone’s main goal is to win. My main goal is to win.”
McGhee on being named to the preseason all-ASUN team – “Winning a conference championship will give me the most validation in the work I’ve put in to this team. Preseason awards, it’s great to be nominated, but postseason always validates what you put in into the season.”