Liberty (15-9, 4-5) defeats Middle Tennessee (8-15, 2-6), 88-53, on Thursday night in front of 3,241 fans at Liberty Arena in Lynchburg, Virginia.
“Without Joseph Venzant, who has been a stalwart for us defensively,” said Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay. “Middle had been playing pretty well. Tonight they had an off night that really helped our cause. I thought our guys really rallied on the defensive end. A lot of space on the floor when Brody is in the game. I thought he played terrificly well, so did Zach. We had some guys that came in and did some little things to kind of alleviate Joseph’s absence. I thought this was a really good team win because Middle is dangerous. I’m telling you, they will be a factor in the conference tournament. That guy that sits on that sideline is a terrific coach.”
Behind Brody Peebles and Kaden Metheny, the Flames quickly jumped out to an 11-2 edge, forcing MTSU head coach Nick McDevitt to burn a timeout before the first media timeout of the contest. Liberty would not look back, leading from wire to wire and by as many as 35 on the evening to secure the team’s second straight victory. The Flames picked up the win despite being without starting guard Joseph Venzant who missed the game due to a separated shoulder suffered Saturday at UTEP.
Peebles led the team in minutes and scoring with his 21 points. Zach Cleveland added 20 points while Kaden Metheny had 13 and Kyle Rode scored 10. Rode also added a career-high 12 rebounds and 6 assists. Ben Southerland had 9 points while Shiloh Robinson scored 8 in his return after missing the UTEP game on Saturday with a broken nose and concussion.
The Flames will stay in Lynchburg through the weekend, playing host to Louisiana Tech on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and televised on ESPNU. The Bulldogs are currently in first place in Conference USA with a 6-2 league mark and are 16-7 overall.
PEEBLES SPURS FLAMES WITH START
Making his first start since his freshman season, Brody Peebles brought the energy from the opening tip and helped spur the Flames to the win. The 6’3″ junior guard from Hartselle, Alabama scored the first five points of the game and Liberty would never trail thanks in part to his hot start.
Peebles filled in for Joseph Venzant who missed the game due to a separated shoulder suffered at UTEP on Saturday night. Venzant exited the game in El Paso, Texas but quickly returned to the floor. Venzant did not practice this week and went through warmups prior to the game but was unable to suit up and play in the game, ended a streak of 90 straight games the junior guard had started.
Making his first start since Dec. 31, 2021, Peebles scored 13 points in the first half and finished the game with 21. That’s the most points he has scored against a Division I team this season. He was 7 of 12 from the field, made all 7 of his free throws, and did not attempt a three pointer.
“Uncharacteristic of Brody’s stat line with zero attempted threes,” said McKay. “He’s gotten better in terms of reading the closeout when people try to run him off the three point line. He’s a really creative finisher. His best improvement has been on the defensive end. He’s really doing a good job. We really have six starters. His play over the last couple of weeks has really helped our cause.”
EFFICIENT OFFENSE FOR FLAMES
It was one of the team’s best offensive games in conference play this season. The Flames finished the game shooting 56.5% from the field and 7 of 13 for 53.8% from three.
Liberty turned it up a notch in the 2nd half, making its first seven field goals after intermission. Zach Cleveland scored 10 points in the first 3:19 of the second half as he became much more aggressive.
The Flames would also dominate the Blue Raiders in points in the paint, finishing the game with a 56-26 advantage inside despite being severely outsized.
“I think that was their plan, to run us off the three,” McKay said. “We obviously shoot a lot of threes, but hopefully we are a program that takes what the defense gives us. Maybe our guys read all the social media stuff about our three point attempts and decided to listen to the media. I felt like we did a really good job attacking the paint.”
SATURDAY SHOWDOWN LOOMS
The Flames have won two straight to improve to 4-5 in conference play, and now Saturday’s game looms. Liberty will tango with first place Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs are coming off a loss at home on Wednesday night against Western Kentucky, but still sit at 6-2 and atop the conference standings. The two teams played a close contest earlier in the season with La Tech coming out on top of the Flames in overtime, 80-76, on January 14.
If Liberty wants to push itself to contend at the top of the conference standings a win on Saturday will be paramount. The game has already been announced as a sellout and should be a great atmosphere for the 8 p.m. tip on ESPNU.
“They are a different team,” McKay said of the Bulldogs. “They didn’t have Chavez last night. Isaiah Crawford was in foul trouble. Daniel Batcho was in foul trouble. Coach Hester has done a terrific job. That’s a really good team. They present a lot of problems for everybody in the league. There’s a reason they are in first place.”
McKAY POST GAME PRESS CONFERENCE