Liberty improved to 4-0 on the season with a win over Wichita State (4-1), 83-66, on Friday night. With the win, the Flames advance to the championship game of the Myrtle Beach Invitational, and Liberty will now take on Vermont on Sunday evening.
“I’ve known [Wichita State Head] Coach [Paul] Mills for a long time,” said Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay. “I think he’s a fabulous coach and he’s got a really good team already. Most of the time, it takes a while to build a program and they are such a tough out. Really proud of our group because I think Wichita State will win a ton of games. Really hard fought battle. It was a nice atmosphere. It was really highly competitive.”
In what seems to be becoming a trend for Liberty to begin the season, the team gets off to a slow start before finding its groove. It happened once again on Friday against the team from the AAC, as Wichita State took an early 13-5 lead about six minutes into the contest.
The Flames would settle in and seize control of the game midway through the first half and led for nearly 28 minutes of the contest. The Shockers would make a run, cutting the lead to two, before Liberty quickly responded and pushed the lead back out to double figures.
Kyle Rode led the way with a career high 31 points to go along with 5 rebounds and 4 assists while making 7 of 12 from behind the three-point line. Colin Porter chipped in 13 points while Kaden Metheny added 12. Brody Peebles reached double figures for the fourth straight game to begin the year, finishing with 11.
Zach Cleveland led the team with 9 rebounds to go along with 4 assists despite not scoring. Joseph Venzant had 7 points and 8 rebounds. Ben Southerland also made his Liberty and collegiate debut. He redshirted last year as a true freshman and missed the first three games with as he fought back from a foot injury. Southerland scored 1 point, had 1 rebound, and 1 assist in 5 minutes played.
Liberty was 14 of 40 from three-point range, compared to just 2 of 14 for Wichita State. That helped the Flames overcome a 40-28 edge by the Shockers in points in the paint. Liberty had 18 assists to the Shockers’ 3.
The Flames will take on 4-0 Vermont in Sunday’s Myrtle Beach Invitational championship game. The Catamounts and Flames will play at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
TEAM BALL GETS THE JOB DONE
Liberty has been incredibly fun to watch play basketball so far this season. The team moves the ball, compliments one another, and always looks for the best shot. It led to 28 made field goals on 18 assists. Not a bad ratio, at all. Compare that number to just three assists for Wichita State on their 24 made field goals.
There are so many ball handlers and shooters on this team that it is very difficult for the opposition to defend. Kyle Rode, Kaden Metheny, Brody Peebles, and Colin Porter are all terrific with the ball in their hands and their ability to score in a variety of ways while also keeping their teammates involved.
KYLE RODE CONTINUES HOT START TO THE SEASON
It’s been impressive to see Kyle Rode’s start to his COVID year. He is clearly the team leader, but now we are seeing it with his play on the floor. He’s much more aggressive in looking for his shot than what we have seen the rest of his career.
31 points is a new career high for the 6’7″ forward as he continues to play at an all-conference performer. Dare we say he could continue Liberty’s streak of four straight conference player of the year honorees?
FLAMES’ BENCH HAS BEEN KEY
Liberty’s bench has surprisingly been really good this season. Led by Brody Peebles scoring off the bench, the Flames have outscored all of their opponents so far this year in bench points. Tonight the advantage was 20-6, led by Peebles’ 11 points on 5 of 11 shooting.
Entering the season, there were question marks about the team’s depth, but it appears to not be a problem. The Flames have a clear top seven, but the rotation could grow to 9 or 10 as we get deeper into the year.