Six conference games are in the books as Liberty defeated Central Arkansas on Saturday. While I covered the unfortunate bump in the road against Eastern Kentucky, I want to recap a few takeaways from last week’s games against North Alabama and Central Arkansas. Both games went pretty much according to plan and were convincing wins. The Flames are now tied for first in the ASUN with a 5-1 conference record.
As fans, we are always entertained when our favorite team pulls off a close victory. But, the Flames flexed their ASUN muscle by beating North Alabama and Central Arkansas in convincing fashion. North Alabama is currently 12th in the ASUN standings, while Central Arkansas is 14th, so the first-place Flames needed to cover.
While two double-digit victories may seem un-noteworthy, there were a few things that stood out to me in last week’s games.
- Diversity. Shiloh Robinson’s 27 points against North Alabama on 11 of 13 shooting certainly was the highlight of the week from an individual performance standpoint. But, there is a larger lesson at play for the Flames. The guys continue to diversify their threats against opponents. Additionally, Saturday was more of the same. Kyle Rode scored 11 points, Blake Preston 10 points, Colin Porter 16 points, and of course, Darius McGhee scored 32. When teams see four players or more in double digit scoring, they become very hard to beat. The Flames want to continue to pride themselves on substantial defense, but diversity scoring like they demonstrated this week is a big boost to their confidence. Weeks like these can serve to be catalysts for role players to start to have breakout seasons.
- Environment. This point may seem like a reach, but Liberty Arena was a wonderful place to be on Saturday night. My wife and I had the pleasure of being present for both games last week, and Saturday was one of the most fun games I have got to watch in person at Liberty Arena. ESPN says the arena was at 91 percent capacity, and as Damien Sordelett covered, Johannes Kirsipuu brought out the best from the fans and the Flames. Darius certainly responded in his own way with confident shooting as a response to the chippiness on the side of the Bears. We all love a good protagonist/antagonist storyline, and Saturday provided that. Liberty Arena and the Liberty fan base continues to be incredible compared to other ASUN counterparts. As the Flames continue to advance, and move into the CUSA, better opponents will continue to bring in better and better crowds.
- Consistency. Like I noted earlier, it’s great to see the Flames winning games the way they should. A week of lower-tier conference opponents should have been handled exactly like they were. Last week showed the Flames are reaching a stable place, knowing how to approach each game, controlling the tempo, swarming on defense, and executing the offense with proficient efficiency. Considering how the squad looked in November, credit is due to Coach McKay and the rest of the coaching staff for the growth and cohesion this group has pulled together. They look like a vastly different group and are giving us reasons to be optimistic about the team they will be come March. As the opponents get tougher in the coming weeks, the Flames can continue to stack wins and practices to be in complete control of the games the way they were this week, even against some of the more competitive ASUN teams.