Liberty (1-3) was unable to get back on the right track on Saturday night in Florida, as the Flames fell to Manhattan (4-1), 76-60. It’s the third straight loss for Ritchie McKay and the Flames, the first time Liberty has lost three straight since the 2017-18 campaign. That season, Liberty’s last in the Big South Conference, the Flames lost five straight conference games in January of that year.
“Apologies,” Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay said following the loss. “That’s not representative of the Liberty basketball team, and I take full responsibility for the way we played. You can’t get out-efforted, out-competed, out-executed, and take that long to respond. Very uncharacteristic of our group. We will learn and grow from this. Credit to Manhattan. We were out-coached, out-played, out everything. It wasn’t the officials, it wasn’t the crowd, we haven’t been to the park. There are no excuses other than we didn’t own our responsibility and it starts with me.”
Liberty will remain in Florida to take on Bethune-Cookman on Tuesday at 5 p.m. in Daytona Beach on a neutral floor. The Wildcats are currently 1-3 on the season and are led by first year head coach Reggie Theus. They picked up their first win of the season on Saturday against Bryant, 81-75, and will face Air Force on Sunday.
Here are our three main takeaways from today’s game:
DARIUS MCGHEE HAVING DIFFICULTY GETTING CLEAN LOOKS
The reigning ASUN Player of the Year Darius McGhee has not been able to get clean looks in most of the previous three games. Teams are attacking him, doubling him, and forcing him to get rid of the ball. The Flames have not responded well to that type of defense over the past three games.
On Saturday against Manhattan, McGhee mad just 2 of 11 field goals and was unable to connect on any of his six three point attempts. He finished with 9 points as he made 5 of his 7 free throw attempts. Over the past three games, he has made just 4 of 28 three point field goals.
“He knew that was going to happen,” said McKay. “Everyone has that scout – take it out of Darius’ hands. What you do behind it, is you don’t turn it over. The adjustment you make is you get it to somebody else and you play the numbers behind it. There’s a 4 on 3 or a 2 on 1 behind it, but if you turn it over to the tune of 15 times or you don’t attack after you made the right pass, this is what you get.”
Under Coach McKay, the Flames have been known for their defensive play in the packline system he brought with him from Tony Bennett at Virginia. Liberty struggled defensively against the Jaspers though. They finished shooting 56.6% from the field, including 76.9% in the second half. Manhattan made four of five three point field goals in the second half and they took advantage of their opportunities at the charity stripe, making all 10 free throws.
“We were confused,” McKay said of the defense. “We were doing things we haven’t done before. We were undisciplined. Then, they made some quality looks. You haven’t seen that over the course of the last few years because we have been a lot more consistent, a lot tougher mentally, and a lot more committed than we were tonight.”
CONFIDENCE BECOMING AN ISSUE
“I think there’s a little confidence issue that we’re going to have to get through,” McKay said. “We still have a really good team, we’re just not playing like it. Coach Soucie said, ‘We haven’t seen this since Lipscomb at home in 2019.’ We will get better, I can promise you that.”
When asked how to fight through a confidence issue with such a young team, McKay had the following to say:
“Keep doing what we do every day. We make shots in practice. We take care of it. I took DJ Moore off the red-shirt. His first two games are against elite pressure, but I like him. I think he’s going to be a factor for us. Anytime you go, I think it’s now 17 for our last 66 from three, we just can’t survive that, but teams are running us off the line and when we attack behind it we’ve got to make better decisions.”
BONUS QUOTES FROM MCKAY
A couple bonus quotes from head coach Ritchie McKay following the game that deserve to be shared:
“Because of the character of our group, we will get better. That’s not my concern, my concern is that we waited 30 minutes to change it, maybe 35 minutes, and it was Isiah Warfield that kinda flipped the way we were playing. I would much more it be from a Kyle Rode, Keegan McDowell, Blake Preston, Darius McGhee, Shiloh (Robinson). It came from Isiah. If it doesn’t come from anyone else, I can tell you it will start tomorrow from me. I’m not mad at them. I love this group, but that’s not indicative of who we are.”
“We have fabulous people that reside in our program. No one wanted to go out there and play the way we played. The moment we lost to LSU we lost our chances at an at-large. We’re going to keep building on the process. We don’t look like an NCAA Tournament team. I know what those look like. We look like we’re a little fragile. We look like we are a little unsure what we’re doing every possession on both ends. They are taking Darius completely out of it. We’ve got to adjust. It’s going to take some time. We’re always urgent because we all believe this is a get-to, not a have-to. We always want to come with a sense of gratitude, ready to try and get better.”