Liberty improved to 5-0 on the season with a win over Vermont (4-1), 71-61, on Saturday in the championship of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
“Really proud of our group, that’s a great win,” said Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay. “I have a ton of admiration for John Becker and the Catamounts. I’ve been a fan of them even back in the Coach Brennan days and T.J. Sorrentine. They’ve got a heck of a program, that’s a really quality win for our group.”
For a third straight game in the Myrtle Beach Invitational, the Flames fell behind early with a slow start on the offensive end of the floor. Vermont took an early 16-point lead as Liberty committed five turnovers and made just two of 10 shots in the opening minutes of the contest.
Also like has been the case the prior two games, Liberty responded to the slow start. Brody Peebles and Shiloh Robinson got the team going off the bench, scoring seven points for the Flames to cut into the deficit. A couple of Kyle Rode three-pointers, his first points of the game, late in the first half gave Liberty its first lead of the game.
These two teams, who are used to winning and competing for championships, went back and forth throughout the second half trading blows. Ultimately, it would be the Flames who would seize control in the closing minutes. The game was tied at 57 with 5:50 left to play before Liberty closed the game on a 14-4 run.
Zach Cleveland led the way with 21 points, a new career high for the sophomore forward. He was one of four players in double figures as he was also joined by Kaden Metheny and Brody Peebles who had 13 each and Colin Porter who had 10 points.
Kyle Rode was named MVP of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
“They call him ‘Cap,” McKay said of Rode. “I haven’t had a captain in 15 years, we don’t name captains. The players name him that and it’s for good reason. His stat line was 8 points and 8 rebounds and he was a -1 for the game but he did so many other things, his voice in the huddle. He’s a rare one. He an be MVP any game he plays in because he’s a winner.”
The Flames will return to Liberty Arena for just the second time so far this season to take on Maryland Eastern Shore on Saturday. The Hawks are currently 2-2 on the season and are coming off an overtime win against Penn, 83-80, on Saturday. They face Notre Dame on Wednesday before making the trek to Lynchburg. Tip is scheduled for 1 p.m.
FLAMES CONTINUE TO OVERCOME SLOW STARTS
Liberty got off to a slow start every game in the tournament on the campus of Coastal Carolina this weekend. Each time though, the Flames were able to find themselves and rally for the win.
On Sunday in the championship game, the Flames fell behind by as many as 10 points in the early minutes after the team had 5 turnovers and were just 2 of 10 from the field. The Catamounts took advantage and grabbed the early lead.
Liberty overcame that slow start offensively thanks, in part, to the play of Brody Peebles and Shiloh Robinson off the bench. That duo got the offense flowing and propelled the team back.
ZACH CLEVELAND IS A STAR IN THE MAKING
We’ve heard a lot about sophomore forward Zach Cleveland and his potential to become an all-conference performer and one of the best players on the team. His play has been a bit up and down at times so far this season, but, on Sunday, we saw him take a leap.
Cleveland had a career high with 21 points as he made 9 of 12 shots. He also grabbed 9 rebounds in his 36 minutes of action. He did have 5 turnovers, something that has been a bit of a bugaboo for him so far this season.
He was aggressive in his attack of the basket and got into the paint seemingly at will. His teammates were looking for him, and Cleveland came through when the Flames needed him most. He scored six straight points for Liberty just under the six minute mark when the game was tied to help provide some cushion for the Flames down the stretch.
KADEN METHENY IS EXACTLY WHAT THIS TEAM NEEDS
There were a lot of questions about who would step into the massive hole left by the departure of Darius McGhee. Through the first two weeks of the season, it seems the answer to that question is not just one player but multiple.
The individual who is playing in his starting spot is Bowling Green transfer Kaden Metheny and he seems to be exactly what this team needs. The 5’10” guard scored 13 points to go along with 7 assists and 4 rebounds in the win over Vermont on Sunday.
He hit a crucial three pointer with 2:47 left in the game to push the lead to 64-60 on a step back and his layup over a good contest with 28 seconds left put the game on ice at 67-60.
Metheny is able to create a shot for himself or for others. He’s a great ball handler and a terrific shooter. He was the guy that had his ball in his hands in the final minute with the Flames looking to secure the victory.
“Kaden, he’s got a burst that’s unique,” McKay said. “We all have a lot of confidence in him to make some plays. He’s so selfless. He could literally shoot 20 times a game. Kaden makes the five points that gave us a little separation for the first time, we didn’t have a lot of breathing room.”