Liberty (24-7, 15-3) overcame a slow shooting start to the game Friday night against Queens (17-14, 7-11) to pick up a win on Senior Night, 73-53.
“From every person in the locker room, our crowd carried the day tonight, they were tremendous,” said Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay. “It was a record crowd, absolutely phenomenal. The moment we broke the ice, I felt like they were worth 6, 8, 10 points. That was tremendous.”
Blake Preston, Colin Porter, and Shiloh Robinson provided virtually all of the offense for Liberty in the first half. Those three combined to shoot 8 of 12 from the field and scored 20 points. The rest of the team was 0 for 14 from the field in the first half, including an 0 for 9 mark from Darius McGhee. The senior guard did not score a point in the first half for the first time since last year’s game against Manhattan. Somehow, the Flames still led Queens, 26-24 at intermission.
The cold shooting would continue into the second half for the Flames as Queens built a 5 point lead at 44-39 with 11:29 left in the game. Things would quickly flip at that point, as Liberty went on a 23-3 run that spanned nearly 7 minutes. The Flames took the lead at 62-47 and would coast to the final margin.
After not scoring in the first half, Darius McGhee would finish with 18 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds. He still shot just 7 of 23 from the field and 2 of 13 from three. Kyle Rode would add 14 points while Blake Preston scored 10 points and 7 rebounds.
The Flames have now concluded the regular season and turn their attention to the ASUN Tournament. Liberty will get a bye in to the ASUN Quarterfinals and play on Tuesday night at Liberty Arena against the winner of a play-in game from Monday night.
FLAMES SECURE A SHARE OF REGULAR SEASON TITLE
Liberty finished the regular season at 24-7 and 15-3 in the ASUN. That marks the third most wins in the regular season that the Flames have ever had, just behind the 27 wins in 2019-20 and 25 wins in 2018-19. The 15 conference wins sets a school record for the most league wins in one season. Liberty cut down the nets after the game.
“It was neat to be able to do that in front of our fans,” McKay said of cutting down the nets. “Last year we didn’t get the opportunity to cut down the nets. I felt our guys battled long and hard to get back to that space and we did. I feel really blessed to be able to do that, especially in front of what I thought was a terrific crowd.”
LIBERTY’S SPURTABILITY ON FULL DISPLAY
Through the first 28+ minutes of the game Friday night, the Flames struggled on offense and it showed on the scoreboard. Liberty trailed by five points and the tension was rising among the 4,041 record crowd at Liberty Arena. That changed quickly as Liberty displayed it’s spurtability at the perfect moment. The Flames went on a 23-3 run and called game.
“We shot 30% in the first half, that’s not characteristic of our group but we’ve had some halves where we’ve struggled, it’s part of basketball,” said McKay. “I do think our guys have a maturity and a response button that is authentic. I thought Zach Cleveland gave us a huge spark. Zay and Joseph were terrific and then when Darius hit a couple we became a little harder to guard.”
ASUN TOURNAMENT MATCHUP SET
The regular season has come to an end and the Flames now turn their attention to the ASUN Tournament which begins Monday. Liberty, as the #2 seed, gets a bye into the Quarterfinals which will be played Tuesday night at Liberty Arena at 7 p.m. The Flames will play the winner of the 7-8 game between North Florida and Bellarmine which will also be played at Liberty Arena on Monday night.
“I mean this very sincerely, it’s really hard to do what this team has done,” said McKay. “Our NET is 43, to have a NET like that without any Quad 1 wins speaks to what this group has been able to accomplish. 24-7 is a really good season. I’m tremendously proud of them, not just because of what we’ve accomplished where we are, but it’s really hard to do what they’ve done. Because of that, I think there’s more for us. I can’t guarantee it, but I think there’s more.”