2-seed Liberty (26-8, 15-3) falls to 1-seed Kennesaw State (26-8, 15-3), 67-66, in the ASUN Championship Game at KSU Convocation Center in Kennesaw, Georgia on Sunday afternoon.
“Congratulations to Kennesaw, they were a tough out today,” said Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay. “They had a great crowd, pretty good college basketball game. I’m disappointed that we didn’t advance to the NCAA Tournament. It’s something that our program has had the blessing of participating in. It’s a life long memory when you make it there. Kennesaw deserved it.”
The Flames trailed by 5 with 1:04 left in the game. Darius McGhee then got to the line and made two free throws, followed by a KSU turnover. Colin Porter then drilled a three-pointer with 23 seconds left to tie the game. Kennesaw’s Terrell Burden drove in the final seconds and Liberty’s Isiah Warfield was called for the foul. Burden knocked down his first free throw and Liberty was unable to get a shot off as time expired.
In the first half, the game featured 5 ties and 4 lead changes. The Flames held a 29-27 lead at intermission despite the team being just 2 of 13 from three. Darius McGhee was held to 4 first half points and was 0 for 7 from three.
The Flames finished just 5 of 23 from three for the game. Darius McGhee was 0 for 11 from behind the arc. Kyle Rode was 4 of 7 from three and the rest of the team was 1 of 16. The only other made triple outside of Rode came from Porter in the final minute.
Liberty’s quest to win the ASUN’s automatic bid comes to an end. We now wait to see when and if the Flames will play next as they should be able to receive an at-large bid to the NIT which would be the first ever appearance in that tournament in program history.
“Really proud of our group,” said McKay. ‘This is as resilient of a team we had. I think there might be some more basketball left for us.”
ON THE LATE FOUL CALL
Terrell Burden had 19 points and made 7 of 10 field goals as he was able to attack Liberty’s smaller guards and get into the paint to wreak havoc on the Liberty defense. The Flames began to switch and have the bigger Isiah Warfield guard the veteran point guard. Warfield played very good defense on Burden throughout the game, particularly in the second half. He got the call on the final possession.
Burden would let the clock run down before attacking. As he got towards the paint, Warfield was called for a foul, sending Burden to the line. He would make the first, to give the Owls the one point win.
“If it was a foul, it’s a foul,” said McKay. “They thought it was. It’s a long game to lose on a free throw, but that’s a part of sports.”
UNFORTUNATE ENDING IN 1-BID LEAGUE
Liberty had a very good season winning 26 games and going 15-3 in the ASUN. The Flames entered Sunday’s title game ranked in the top 45 of nearly all computer ranking models, near the best ranking in school history. It doesn’t matter though as the team was unable to win the three games that mattered the most to secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. That’s simply life in a one-bid league in low to mid-major basketball.
“I’ve thought about that a lot given the season we were having,” said McKay. “I thought, man, how do you attain an at-large bid? If you follow it to the Nth degree, we just don’t get the same cracks at the people that are in the top 40, top 50. If you play in one of those high-major leagues, over and over and over and over again you will see those Quad 1 games. They get 15 of them. When you get three, the margin for error is next to zero for a mid-major. It is what it is. We had an opportunity to try and secure home court advantage, we missed on that one. I think their crowd affected the game a little bit.”
“Hopefully moving on to what I think will be a really competitive conference in Conference USA. No disrespect to the ASUN, I thought this was the best the ASUN has ever been, maybe there’s a multiple bid opportunity (in CUSA), we will have to wait and see.”
DARIUS McGHEE GOES COLD
Three time ASUN Player of the Year Darius McGhee was unfortunately unable to find his shot on Sunday. He finished with 14 points but was only 6 of 21 from the field and 0 for 11 from three. It’s unfortunate for one of the best players in school history and the program’s all-time leading scorer to be unable to find his shot on the big stage. Certainly Kennesaw State had something to do with that too as they were very physical with the Liberty guard and made all of his shots contested.
“It’s definitely disappointing, but you can only do the best you can,” McGhee said following the game. “You control what you can control. We just needed to be a little bit better.”
ASOR POSTGAME SHOW
Really proud of our guys and the way they fought. We are incredibly blessed to have had #2 for the past 5 seasons. What a ballplayer and class act he is. Also incredibly lucky to have coach McKay leading this team each and every season. Phenomenal job he has done.
That said, glad we are joining a REAL conference next season where officiating should be more balanced. KSU played a great football game against our hoops squad on the hardwoods. The Warfield “foul” was a joke. Reviewing anything positive that went LU’s way also got annoying. Hard to beat guys twice your size and the refs at the same time, just sayin.