In it’s first game against a Division I opponent this season, Liberty improved to 2-0 on the new year with a 71-59 victory over the Charlotte 49ers (1-1).
“That’s a really good win for us simply because, although you may not be able to see it now, Charlotte is going to win a lot of games,” said Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay. “Aaron Fearne does a terrific job on that staff. We have the benefit of playing them a little bit early while they are still trying to get their sea legs, that was fortunate.”
Out-sized by the team from the American Athletic Association, the Flames were anything but over-matched. Liberty led for nearly the entire contest and pushed the advantage to as much as 20 points. Playing on the home floor of the Charlotte Hornets at the Spectrum Center, the Flames quieted the few Charlotte fans that were in attendance. The Flames out-rebounded the much bigger 49ers and were even in points in the paint.
Liberty senior forward Kyle Rode led the way with 20 points while making 4 of 8 from behind the arc. Brody Peebles continues his strong offensive start to the season, scoring 13 points on 5 of 8 shooting from the field. Kaden Metheny added 9 points while Colin Porter and Zach Cleveland each added 8. Shiloh Robinson finished with 7 points and 6 rebounds while Joseph Venzant had 6 points and 8 rebounds.
The Flames shot 53% from the field for the game and connected on 10 of 25 three point field goals.
“I really like our team,” said McKay. “They are a connected group. They really don’t care about the individual accolades that maybe there is a propensity at that age group. I think that was reflected in the way they played on both ends of the floor.”
Liberty will return to action on Thursday as play in the Myrtle Beach Invitational begins. The Flames will take on NCAA Tournament participant from last year, Furman, at 7 p.m. Thursday on ESPN+.
KYLE RODE IS HIM
Throughout his first four years on the Mountain, Liberty forward Kyle Rode has played in the shadow of Darius McGhee, one of the best players to ever play for the Flames and one of the best scorers in the country. Friday night in Charlotte was really the first time that Liberty could lean on Rode for his offensive production. He did not disappoint.
The 6’7″ super senior led the way with 20 points while making 8 of 14 shots and 4 or 8 from three. He was able to affect the game at all levels, shooting from deep, attacking off the dribble, and making moves near the basket. A two-time reigning second-team All-ASUN performer, Rode certainly has the potential to be a first-team all-conference selection this season.
“Kyle Rode, I reference him as Mystique,” said McKay. “He can really morph into whatever you need. He can score 20. He can take two shots. He can be a play-maker. He can guard any position, and his character, he’s literally the best leader that I’ve ever coached in 35 years. I let him do what he wants.”
DON’T SLEEP ON BRODY
Brody Peebles seems to be a forgotten man by man coming into this season. If the first two games of the year are any indication, that will not be the case this year for the junior guard from Hartselle, Alabama.
After scoring 20 points in the season opening win on Monday, Peebles was the Robin to Rode’s Batman as he was second on the team with 13 points. Brody made 5 of 8 shots and 2 of 4 from three. He hit a pair of triples from the right corner in quick succession in the first half to help the Flames maintain a comfortable lead.
“Brody scored 3,000 points in high school, so he has always been a flame-thrower,” McKay said. “He decided to stay in a day and age where you are looking for instant gratification or something that you want before it has been earned. Brody has waited this out. He has continued to develop. He’s an elite shooter. One of those guys that I have probably have had 15 of them in my career, every time he shoots it I think it’s going in. I want him to keep throwing those flames.”
FLAMES DON’T BACK DOWN FROM BIGGER 49ERS
The 49ers were much bigger than the undersized Flames. They featured two men in their starting lineup at 6’10” or taller and had five on their roster of that size. Liberty has only one in Kai Yu who is redshirting this season.
That didn’t matter as Liberty didn’t back down from Charlotte’s size. The Flames out-rebounded Charlotte, 30-27, holding an edge on both the defensive glass and on the offensive backboard. Both teams scored 38 points in the paint.
“They have great size,” said McKay of Charlotte. “I think we tried to use our quickness and maybe our spacing to make it hard for them on the other end of the floor so they wouldn’t have so much gas in the tank on the offensive end.”
POST GAME PRESS CONFERENCE