Liberty improved to 3-0 on the new year with a win over Furman (2-1), 88-74, on Thursday evening. It was the first game for the Flames in the Myrtle Beach Invitational, and Liberty will now advance to take on Wichita State in the semifinals on Friday night at 9 p.m.
“Very grateful for this win,” said Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay. “I have an unbelievable amount of respect for Coach Richey, their staff, and what they’ve done as a program. They are really good. I felt like we got a really good win tonight. I think we got a chance to keep improving because the quality of the opponent, we were really tested.
Liberty started the game extremely cold from the floor, making just one of its first 11 field goals. That allowed the reigning Southern Conference champion Paladins to take an early lead. The Flames would begin to turn things around with made triples by transfers Kaden Metheny and Zander Yates.
The two teams, two of the better mid-major programs combined for seven ties and six lead changes in the first half as things went back and forth. Liberty would close the half on an 11-0 run to grab a five point lead at the intermission. In the second half, the Flames pushed the lead to double figures and would pull away from Furman.
Liberty was led in scoring by Kyle Rode with 19 points. He was one of four players to reach double figures, being joined by Brody Peebles (16), Kaden Metheny (15), and Zach Cleveland (11). Liberty finished the game shooting 54% from the field and 9 of 24 from three for 38%. After a slow start, the team poured it on, finishing the second half at 64.3% from the field and 5 of 10 from behind the arc.
The Flames outscored Furman in bench points, 32-8. Perhaps the only negative for the team on the evening was its free throw shooting, making just 17 of 27 from the charity stripe for 63%.
Liberty will take on Wichita State on the semifinals of the Myrtle Beach Invitational on Friday night. Tip is scheduled for 9 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU. The Shockers defeated the host Coastal Carolina on Thursday, 86-77, to improve to 4-0 on the season. The winner will advance to play the winner of Saint Louis and Vermont on Sunday in the championship.
THE TEAM BALANCE MAKES FLAMES A TOUGH OUT
It’s something we haven’t seen a ton of in recent seasons, and understandably so with the incredibly efficient and effective scoring of Darius McGhee, the best scorer in program history, but this team has the most balance and depth of scorers than perhaps we have ever seen from a Ritchie McKay coached team.
It is how Coach McKay built his teams early in his second tenure at Liberty. There were several scorers with a lot of balance on each team. That began to change when Caleb Homesley and then McGhee emerged as conference player of the year type of players.
This team is very balanced, nearly everyone who steps on the floor has the ability to knock down shots, handle the ball, and pass. It’s fun to watch.
“During the course of a game, you just try and kind of feel the rhythm of it and who’s playing well, what combinations are in there together,” said McKay. “We always want to have a defensive mindset. Against Furman you have to. I believe in our guys. I think we’ve got a good group. They play for one another. They are unselfish on both ends. There is a defensive unselfishness that is never really talked about, but I think our guys have it.”
THIS TEAM PLAYS WITH A SWAGGER
There was a stretch in the second half where the Flames took control of the game, and there was a certain swagger on the floor. The team was confident and playing like it. It helped propel the team to a sizable advantage.
It certainly looks like the Flames are having plenty of fun on the court when things are going right for them, like they were on Thursday.
FLAMES MIGHT BE OK
There were questions coming into the season especially with the loss of Darius McGhee, but the Flames have answered them so far. Yes, we are only three games into the season, but this team has plenty of potential.
The competition will be much higher in Conference USA, but this team should be right in the thick of things once again at the top of the conference standings. The tough non-conference schedule will give the team plenty of opportunities to prove its worth.
“Our team is so unselfish,” said McKay. “We will typically get a great shot. We had some average to decent looks that didn’t go in at the beginning, but I think kind of towards the end of the half we reeled it in a little bit. We saw a couple go in and got a little bit more intentional at the other end.”