On January 29, 2019, Liberty played host to Lipscomb at the Vines Center in what was one of the most anticipated regular season home games in school history. Both teams were 7-0 in conference play and ranked in the top 50 of the NET rankings. The Flames were embarrassed that night by a veteran Lipscomb squad, 79-59.
That game sparked the Liberty program to win 11 out of 13 games, including two games at Lipscomb, winning the ASUN regular season and conference title, and defeating Mississippi State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in the school’s first ever win in the Big Dance.
That game in late January 2019 is also Liberty’s last loss on their home floor. The Flames have since won 34 straight games. It’s been two years and 23 days since head coach Ritchie McKay’s team has suffered a home defeat. It is the second longest active home win streak in the country, trailing only Gonzaga who has won 49 straight.
“I never make reference to it,” McKay said when asked about the home win streak. “I hate when you guys do. I don’t believe in jinxes or superstition. When I was at New Mexico, I think we averaged 14-15,000 fans a game. Our longest streak was 21 wins and we had a distinct home court advantage every time we played there. Then, at Virginia, when we got it rolling, I want to say our longest streak was 21 games and (John Paul Jones Arena) was sold out every night. To do it in this climate, where the max (capacity) is 250 and 34 wins in a row at home, that may not ever get accomplished again.”
10 of the 34 wins have been decided by single digits and the closest final margin was in just the second win of the streak as it was nearly halted before it ever got started. On Feb. 5, 2019 against a Stetson team that was just 5-19 overall and 1-8 in the ASUN and would finish 7-24 overall and 3-13 in conference play and would not qualify for the ASUN Tournament, the Flames won 57-54. Liberty led that game by 11 with four minutes to play before Stetson closed the game on a 10-2 run. The Flames had to hold their breathe as Stetson’s Keith Matthews attempted a three-pointer as time expired that just missed.
“If you remember, we played five of our six ASUN Tournament games at home,” McKay recollected. “The semifinals in the first year against North Florida, that game was a tightly contested game, really hard. Then last year, NJIT, we struggled a bit there. Stetson, we were going the wrong direction and finally got it righted against Lipscomb.”
During the run, Liberty has been nearly as good away from home as they have in Lynchburg. Since the home win streak started, Liberty is 58-11 overall. The Flames are 15-8 in road games and 9-3 in neutral floor contests since the home win streak start. Liberty has also won two conference regular season and tournament titles as well as the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament game.
“We practice here day in, day out,” Liberty senior point guard Chris Parker said. “I think everybody here takes pride in protecting our home court and protecting Liberty, our name.”
This win streak has stretched two venues. The Flames won the final 23 games played in the Vines Center and have opened Liberty Arena with an unblemished mark of 11-0.
“Our program, how we do things, being defensive,” senior guard Elijah Cuffee said of why the Flames are so good at home. “When people come here, they’re going to have to play against us defensively and the rim that we shoot on a lot. It’s just comfortable playing offensively and then taking that defensive mentality with us. (The win streak) is not anything we’re worried about, like, ‘We gotta win at home.’ It’s just us going out there and playing. It’s worked out that way so far.”
This is by far the longest home win streak in school history. Liberty passed that mark a while ago. The Flames’ longest previous home win streak was 16 straight from Feb. 1, 1983 through Jan. 7, 1984.
“I’m really proud of our group,” said McKay. “I think it’s not to be celebrated while it’s going on because the more attention you bring to it the more fuel you will bring to the opponent’s fire, but I do feel like it’s something that we will appreciate long after it’s over.”
The win streak has stretched into three different seasons, and the Flames are hoping to close out the 2020-21 campaign with an unbeaten record at home and push the win streak into a fourth season.
“I try to take each game as its own entity,” McKay said. “Because of my competitiveness, I want to win the next game. I don’t think it has anything to do with the game at hand, but I will look back on it one day and shake my head. That’s quite an accomplishment.”
The 34 straight home wins:
Feb. 2, 2019: NJIT, 77-57
Feb. 5, 2019: Stetson, 57-54
Feb. 9, 2019: FGCU, 74-67
Feb. 26, 2019: Kennesaw State, 76-59
Mar. 4, 2019: Jacksonville in ASUN Tourney, 72-58
Mar. 7, 2019: North Florida in ASUN Tourney, 71-63
Nov. 8, 2019: Radford, 66-60
Nov. 10, 2019: Maryland Eastern Shore, 66-55
Nov. 12, 2019: South Carolina State, 65-39
Nov. 19, 2019: Navy, 55-48
Nov. 29, 2019: Kentucky Christian, 88-42
Dec. 2, 2019: Trinity Baptist, 87-28
Jan. 9, 2020: North Alabama, 63-52
Jan. 11, 2020: Jacksonville, 54-37
Jan. 18, 2020: Lipscomb, 67-60
Jan. 30, 2020: Kennesaw State, 83-45
Feb. 1, 2020: FGCU, 61-46
Feb. 15, 2020: NJIT, 62-49
Feb. 20, 2020: North Florida, 82-77
Feb. 22, 2020: Stetson, 77-49
Mar. 3, 2020: NJIT in ASUN Tourney, 55-49
Mar. 5, 2020: Stetson in ASUN Tourney, 66-62
Mar. 8, 2020: Lipscomb in ASUN Tourney, 73-57
Dec. 3, 2020: St. Francis (PA), 78-62
Dec. 5, 2020: Bluefield, 86-64
Dec. 12, 2020: Columbia International, 73-26
Dec. 15, 2020: South Carolina State, 82-52
Dec. 16, 2020: Carver, 91-38
Dec. 22, 2020: Alcorn State, 108-65
Jan. 8, 2021: Kennesaw State, 69-63
Jan. 9, 2021: Kennesaw State, 76-47
Feb. 5, 2021: Lancaster Bible College, 90-49
Feb. 12, 2021: North Florida, 73-61
Feb. 13, 2021: North Florida, 80-60