Liberty (22-11, 12-4) saw its unbeaten streak in the ASUN Tournament come to an end as the Flames fell to Bellarmine (19-13, 11-5), 53-50 on Saturday in the conference semifinals. The Flames will not four-peat as ASUN Champions, and we will have to wait to see if they choose to continue their season in a postseason tournament at a later date.
“That was a tough one,” said Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay. “Really thought Bellarmine played a heck of a game and deserved to win, but I love this group. Our guys are unbelievable individuals, unbelievable workers, selfless in nature. No better example of that than (Darius McGhee). I’m disappointed that we don’t get to go back to the NCAA Tournament, but proud of our group and their effort tonight and this season.”
Bellarmine came out with great energy and jumped out to a 14-2 lead at the 13:19 mark of the first half. The Flames would go on an extended run of 24-4 the rest of the half to enter the locker room with a 26-18 lead. The Knights were held the final 9:12 of the first half without a point.
After Liberty pushed its lead to 10 points in the opening minutes of the second half, Bellarmine responded with a 10-0 run to tie the game. The game would remain close for the duration, with no team taking a lead by more than five points the rest of the way. The teams would exchange the lead seven times over that span.
“We have been invited to two different tournaments,” McKay said of his team’s future. “We are going to decide if we are going to continue to play. That will be a group decision. Again, we will see.”
Here are our three main takeaways from today’s game:
DYLAN PENN SCORES GO AHEAD BUCKET
Darius McGhee and Dylan Penn exchanged buckets and the lead our times in the closing minutes, and Penn got the last laugh. After McGhee put the Flames up one with one minute to play, Penn made an acrobatic bucket in the paint with 42 seconds remaining to give Bellarmine the lead it would not relinquish.
On Liberty’s next possession, the Flames’ turned it over and had to foul the Knights. After four made free throws sandwiched a Keegan McDowell uncontested layup, McGhee’s three pointer as time expired fell short of the rim.
McGHEE’S LIBERTY CAREER POSSIBLY OVER
While the Flames could still play in a postseason tournament, it won’t be the NCAA Tournament, and we could have seen the end of Darius McGhee’s career at Liberty. He will go down as one of the greatest to ever don the Liberty colors.
“Hard to put into words,” said McKay. “I think when the final chapter is over I will probably sit back and evaluate a little bit and be able to speak to it a little bit more. He is such a fabulous person. I think his humility is infectious. When you get the attention and/or the notoriety that Darius had and you still care more about winning and your teammates and giving them credit, I think you’ve got something that the world can benefit from.”
FLAMES THREE-PEAT COMES TO AN END
Liberty sees its unbeaten record in the ASUN Tournament come to an end after opening their time in the league with 10 straight tournament wins. It was the first ever loss in a conference tournament game for Darius McGhee and it ends a streak of five straight seasons for the Flames reaching a conference championship game.
“It’s hard to win championships,” said McKay. “You are not always going to win just because you play at home or just because you have the player of the year, or just because you have this analytic number or that analytic. The thing I love about this group is there is a lot of disappointment in the locker room because we didn’t go back to the Tournament. I think when you have that in your program, you have a standard that we are pursuant of on a regular basis. For that, I am excited about our group and our future.”