Liberty (1-2) was unable to hang onto a lead and fell to Rick Pitino and Iona (4-0), 54-50, on Friday night in the opening game of the ASUN/MAAC Challenge. The Flames got out to a big lead in the first half, leading by as many as 16 at 23-7, before the Gaels made a 16-2 run to end the half, cutting Liberty’s lead to 25-23 at the break.

Darius McGhee led the team with 12 points while Kyle Rode chipped in 11. They were the only two in double figures, but they each struggled from the floor. McGhee made just 5 of 17 shots and 2 of 11 from three. Rode was 5 of 15 from the floor and 1 of 4 from three. Blake Preston finished with 8 points and 7 rebounds and Shiloh Robinson had 8 points and 5 rebounds.

“Tough loss,” Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay said. “Felt like we did some good things, but our offense has struggled a little bit. Darius is now 4 for 22 from three in the last two games. We’re not used to seeing that. We felt like we did a better job in taking care of the ball and getting good looks, didn’t do a good enough job on the glass. Consecutive games now we’ve been beat with 21 of our own turnovers and 15 offensive rebounds. These are statistics that are very important to us. We’ve got to get better.”

It’s a quick turnaround for Liberty as the Flames are back in action in less than 24 hours to close out the ASUN/MAAC Challenge. The Flames take on Manhattan at 6 p.m. on Saturday evening on ESPN3. The Jaspers are 2-1 on the season entering their game Friday night at 7:30 p.m. against North Alabama.

“They are off to a good start too,” McKay said of Manhattan. “Welcome to our world. We’re going to keep trying to swing away, keep getting better, and I like our group. I think we will respond tomorrow and hopefully do a better job of closing the game.”

Here are our three main takeaways from today’s game:


In Monday’s loss at LSU, Liberty held a lead with five minutes left to play before the Tigers closed on a 27-6 run to coast to a 16 point win. Friday against Iona, the Flames were leading 50-46 with 3:35 in the game before the Gaels closed on an 8-0 spurt to steal the win.

With the Flames leading by 4 in the waning minutes, freshman Joseph Venzant had an open three-pointer from the corner that would have extended the lead to seven with just over two minutes to play. If he was able to hit that shot, Liberty is likely able to hold on to the lead. There were a couple other good looks the team had in the final minutes, but were unable to connect on including a hook shot in the paint by Blake Preston in the final 30 seconds.

Having such a young team, the Flames may be going through some growing pains and needing to learn how to win and close games out.

“Some of it is the caliber of opponent we’re playing,” McKay said of losing the late lead. “This is a schedule that probably isn’t built for freshmen guards, but it’s all we can get. It’s just the reality of where we are. We want a hard schedule, it makes you better. I feel good about our guys, our offensive capability, we just didn’t make enough shots. Against LSU it was turnovers, tonight felt like we had some good looks that didn’t go in, and then we gave them two second chance points that were huge.”


Speaking of Joseph Venzant, the missed three notwithstanding, he had a really solid game in his first career start. The true freshman played 28 minutes and finished the game with 6 points and 8 rebounds. He has shown his ability to create turnovers with his quick hands, and even have some of them lead to transition points.

“He’s tough, he’s a warrior, he’s fighting,” McKay said of Venzant. “I like our future.”


Coach McKay had gone back and forth in the weeks leading up to the season opener on whether or not to redshirt true freshman DJ Moore. He initially elected to preserve his season of eligibility, but Liberty’s head coach changed his mind this week and decided to take the redshirt off Moore and let him play.

Moore, who enrolled a year early at Liberty and should be a senior in high school, saw his first game action of his young career Friday night against Iona. The point guard played 11 minutes and had just 1 turnover.

“I asked DJ to come off the redshirt, and he was excited to play,” said McKay. “He’s going to be a really good player for us, all three of those freshmen are. I thought he did a good job, that’s a hard first game, but it’s the first of many. He’s going to have a really good future here.”