Liberty (18-5, 9-2) defeated North Alabama (10-9, 6-7) 74-54 in a Monday afternoon matinee from Liberty Arena. With the win, the Flames have now won 7 straight games and 10 out of 11 overall. Liberty has also pushed its home win streak to 35 games.
“That’s our 5th league game in (37) days,” Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay said following the game. “This is an incredible group. To be able to have the concentration and the resiliency that they’ve had over the course of the year has been a privilege to watch and be a part of. The past four weeks we haven’t known if we were going to have a game or not, when the game would be played, and some of that is beyond anyone’s control, but I thought our approach to this game was really good. I’m really pleased with our effort. We were mentally and physically tough for the majority of the game.”
Flames’ seniors Elijah Cuffee, Chris Parker, Luke McKay, and Colton Reed were honored prior to the game as part of Senior Day activities. Cuffee, one of the winningest players in school history, provided a spark for the Liberty offense. His three-pointer less than 5 minutes into the game gave the Flames a 14-11 lead, a lead the team would not relinquish.
North Alabama, who began ASUN play at 6-1 and atop the conference standings, have now dropped six straight contests as they slip towards the bottom half of the league in the final week of the regular season.
Liberty would push the lead to double digits midway through the first half and it would remain at that margin for the majority of the first 20 minutes. A 14-0 run for the Flames stretching the end of the first half and into the opening minutes of the second half, would push the lead to over 20. Liberty would lead by as many as 29 points and coast to the final margin.
“The way they practice, it’s why I’m proud of them,” McKay said of his group. “I think we’ve had 76 practices. It’s just hard to keep bringing that energy, toughness, execution every day in practice. These guys have done it. I like our run up to the conference tournament. I think we’re improving on a daily basis and hopefully we will keep striving for that tomorrow and the rest of the week.”
Darius McGhee led the Flames with a career-high 29 points as he made 11 of 19 from the field and 7 of 12 from three. Cuffee added 13 points, making 3 of 4 from three and all 4 of his free throw attempts.
“We see it every day in practice,” McKay said following the game about McGhee’s offensive ability. “He may be the most undervalued, underrated player in the country. He does whatever it takes to win the game. Darius McGhee could lead the country in scoring, but we don’t need him to. I think he’s got a chance for great success, and, obviouisly, he was really good offensively tonight.”
Behind those two, it was a balanced scoring attack as four players scored either 6-8 points. Blake Preston added 8 points and 6 rebounds. Keegan McDowell added 6 while Kyle Rode had 6 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists. Chris Parker finished with 6 points, 6 assists, and 3 rebounds.
“Their team plays as hard as anyone in the league,” McKay said of the Lions. “They are shaking the rust off from not having practiced because of inclement weather. What we saw at the end of the game is much more reflective of what North Alabama has been the entire season. I think our guys did a good job of getting a lead, but we’ve still got some areas we need to improve in.”
Liberty and North Alabama will meet once again on Tuesday at noon in the final home game at Liberty Arena this season.