Liberty (2-3) dropped its first game of the Cancun Challenge in Mexico on Tuesday evening, falling to Northwestern (5-0), 66-52.

“A little bit more of the same,” said Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay following the game. “No disrespect to Northwestern, I think they are a very good team, but I think we continue to self-inflict. Until that changes, we will be doing these post game interviews with a sadness that we didn’t get the desired outcome. You can’t turn it over 18 times, put people at the line as many times as we’ve been. Our defense hasn’t changed, but we’ve got to rethink what we’re doing defensively. Teams are going to the line at an incredible rate.”

Behind the strong play of Darius McGhee, Liberty took control of the game in the opening minutes. The Flames grabbed the lead off two McGhee free throws and maintained that lead throughout the first half. McGhee scored 13 points, making 3 of 6 from behind the arc, before picking up his second foul and heading to the bench.

The Flames led by as many as 12 points in the opening 20 minutes, but with McGhee on the bench for the majority of the run, Northwestern closed the half on a 13-2 run to go into the break trailing the Flames, 29-28. A 14-0 burst early in the second half would put the Wildcats in control of the game heading down the stretch.

The Flames will conclude their trip in Cancun on Wednesday evening against Bradley. The game is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will be televised on CBS Sports Network. The Braves are currently 3-2 on the season and are coming off an 85-64 loss against Auburn on Tuesday evening.

“The great thing about these tournaments is you get to play the next day, right away,” McKay said. I hope we are a little better with the ball tomorrow against Bradley. Bradley is really good too. We want that. I think it’s really easy to try and schedule just inflated schedule to build confidence and get wins, but we’re trying to do something different. We’re trying to play the best so that we have a chance to compete for a league championship and beyond. We will get it right. We just got to keep building in them and continue to trust and believe.”


When Darius McGhee is on, he gives Liberty a chance to compete against just about anyone in the country. His scoring ability, coupled with the team’s defensive ability, can keep the Flames within striking distance of most around the country.

We saw that Tuesday night in Cancun during the first half. He made 3 of his 6 three pointers to lead the team with 13 points as the Flames took a 27-15 lead late in the opening half. That came to an end after the prolific scoring guard picked up his second foul and went to the bench the rest of the first half. Northwestern would close the half on a 13-2 run to cut the Liberty lead to 29-28.

McGhee would finish the game with 23 points on 6 of 18 shooting and 4 of 13 from the three point line. He would never regain his touch after the halftime break as Northwestern grabbed a comfortable lead they maintained for most of the stretch.


As was the case most of last year, the Flames have struggled to find consistency much of this season on the offensive end of the floor. When Darius McGhee is on, the team is explosive on offense. When he is on the bench or struggling to find his shot, the offense typically lags.

There has been times this season where Brody Peebles has stepped up to fill some of that gap. We have also seen it from Kyle Rode and Shiloh Robinson at times. There just has not been enough consistent options frequently enough to be able to step up and help McGhee.

“I don’t think anyone we’ve lost to has lost yet,” McKay stated. “I think the opposition that we’re facing is really good and will prepare us well for league play. Fortunately, we have some time to get better and improve.”


Liberty had 11 first half turnovers, helping to keep Northwestern in the game. It has been something that has caused issues at times for the Flames. The team was better at handling the ball in the opening minutes of the second half, but there were still lapses.

The Flames would finish the game with 18 turnovers. Northwestern held a 21-14 edge in points off turnovers in the game.

“Darius picked up his second foul, the game changed,” said McKay. “They put their head down. We’ve got one of our primary ballhandlers out of the game and we gave them, I think, four pick-sixes. You just can’t do that if you’re going to beat really good teams and we did. We will work on it tomorrow at shoot-around, in the game against Bradley, and rest assured we will be working on it when we get home too.”