Liberty (15-5, 6-1) ended a 21 game home winning streak for Jacksonville (10-8, 3-4) on Thursday night, knocking off the Dolphins, 66-52.

“Happy about the win because Jacksonville is really good,” said Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay. “Not many people will come into Swisher and get a win. They are a terrifically coached team and they have really good players. It is a step certainly for us and our pursuit to get better.”

In a matchup of the top two scoring defenses in the ASUN, it was a rock fight for much of the evening. Liberty utilized a 10-0 run midway through the opening half to jump into the lead. The Flames would take a 26-21 advantage into the locker room at the half, aided by Darius McGhee’s 10 points and Blake Preston who had 4 points and 8 rebounds. Liberty led at intermission despite shooting only 32.1% from the field and 3 of 15 from three point range.

In the second half, the Flames maintained the same level of defensive intensity, but the offense picked it up a notch, shooting 50% from the floor and 40% from three. It allowed Liberty to push the lead into double figures, a margin that would remain for the majority of the final half.

McGhee would lead the team in scoring with 25 points. He was joined in double figures by Blake Preston who had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Kyle Rode added 10 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds, and Isiah Warfield and 10 points and 4 rebounds.

“I thought Zay and Blake were tremendous tonight,” McKay said. “Big energy off the bench from Zay. Boy, Blake had one of his better games in his career. He was a force to be reckoned with.”

The Flames will stay in Jacksonville the next couple of days and now begin preparation to take on the North Florida Ospreys. Liberty will face UNF on Saturday afternoon at 2 pm. The Ospreys are currently 8-11 on the season and 3-4 in conference play following their win over Queens Thursday night, 95-90. The Flames have never defeated North Florida at UNF Arena.


Entering the game, a lot was made about the Flames being just 1-3 in true road games this season and facing a team that had not lost at home in two seasons under head coach Jordan Mincy. The Dolphins were 21-0 at Swisher Gym under their second year head coach, but that streak would come to an end by the hands of the Flames.


A 5th year senior, Blake Preston provides a level of security for head coach Ritchie McKay when he is on the floor. Preston’s role changes virtually every night, some games getting 20+ minutes and others rarely getting off the bench. Thursday at Jacksonville, the 6’9″ big man was a big part of the Liberty game plan.

Preston finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds as he made 6 of 10 from the field in 24 minutes. It marks his first double-double of the season but 6th of his career.

“I trust Blake,” McKay said of the senior. “He’s got a level of maturity, not just in his experience on the court and getting through adversity, but he’s got a peace on his life that I think is bringing a lot of joy to our locker room. He could very easily go the wrong direction, have a sense of entitlement or I’m not getting mine kind of disposition. Blake doesn’t do that. I love him to death because Blake is the same. Don’t get me wrong, everyone wants success individually, but Blake is the epitome of what we try and pursue – guys that care about being part of something bigger than themselves.”


Liberty guard Isiah Warfield is the highest rated recruit to ever sign with the Flames out of high school. That sometimes gets forgotten for the junior, but he has the potential to be a terrific two-way player. Over the past couple of seasons, Zay has proven his worth with his hustle and his superb defensive play. Against the Dolphins, he also provided a scoring punch off the bench.

He scored a season high and tied his career high with 10 points as he was 4 of 8 from the field and 2 of 3 from three-point range. His two made triples came on back to back possession to help keep Jacksonville at bay. He also did his usual work on the defensive end, keeping one of the best guards in the ASUN in check, as Kevion Nolan was just 3 of 12 from the floor and 1 of 7 from three.

“I think Zay’s toughness, his team-ship, I think it’s elite,” McKay said. “Just look at his gradual ascension over the course of his three years here. Happy for him because he’s really making a difference in our program.”