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Recapping the Hoops Season
The 2007-08 basketball season concluded last week in the semifinal round of the Big South Championship, with the Flames losing to No. 1 seed UNC Asheville. Despite the loss, the Flames broke a streak of three-straight losing campaigns, as well as three-straight years of falling in the opening round of the conference tournament. Liberty reached the semifinals of the Big South Championship for only the fourth time in the past 10 seasons.
In his first season at the helm of the Flames, Ritchie McKay set a Liberty record for first-year head coaches with 16 victories. Dale Gibson tallied 15 wins in 1978-79 and Jeff Meyer equaled that mark in 1981-82. Outside of the 2003-04 squad's 18 victories, this season's mark of 16 triumphs is the most the Liberty hoops squad has enjoyed since 1996-97's first and only Division I 20-win season, when the hoopsters racked up 23 wins.
McKay's squad had a penchant for hitting the trey, setting Liberty records in three-point field goals (288) and attempts (772), while finishing the year with the third-best success rate (37.3 percent).
Junior Anthony Smith became the 20th player in Liberty history to reach the 1,000 career point plateau, finishing the year in the 16th position on the all-time scoring list with 1,139 career markers. Smith, the only guard in the Big South to connect on 50 percent (51.5 percent) of his field goal attempts this season, broke the school records for three-point field goals (84) and attempts (205), while finishing with the fifth-best success rate in school history (41.0). Smith is currently sixth in the Big South in scoring per game (16.0 ppg), but his 512 total points rank No. 4 in the conference. Smith matched or set a career high in points five times during the season, including three times in four games near the end of the season, before finishing with a career-best 30 points against VMI on March 4.
First team all-conference selection Alex McLean was one of three players in the league to rank in the top 7 in scoring (15.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.8 rpg). The senior and two-year letterwinner finished his career 21st all-time in the Liberty annals in scoring (954 points), holding the dubious honor of being the only player in program history who reached the 900 career point plateau, but did not end up reaching 1,000 career points. McLean did pull down 557 career caroms during just two seasons with the Flames, ranking ninth all-time in the Liberty record books, and fourth in the Division I era.
Senior TeeJay Bannister finished the season ranked No. 3 in the nation in assists (224 assists). Bannister's assist mark is a Liberty Division I record, the second-best mark overall in the Liberty annals, and serving as the second-best mark in Big South history. Bannister became only the fifth player in conference history to reach the 200-assist plateau in a season. Bannister's 15 assists on Jan. 21 broke his own Vines Center Record set on Jan. 8 against Kentucky Christian (13). The 15 helpers also tied Matt Hildebrand's program Division I record.
Sophomore walk-on Kyle Ohman knocked down 63 three-point field goals, after playing in only 10 games as a freshman. The noteworthy nature of Ohman's three-point field goal mark is that Liberty's all-time three-point field goal leader, Larry Blair, only made 64 in his best season (2005-06). Ohman was proficient from beyond the arc, finishing the year with the fourth-highest success rate in program history (41.2 percent). Blair's best mark from three-point range was 35.6 percent in 2005-06.
Looking to Next Season
With McKay's inaugural season at Liberty in the books, much anticipation is building toward next season. A blend of key returnees and a recruiting class ranked in the Top 50 in the nation should help Liberty contend for the wide-open Big South Championship in 2008-09.
Smith heads the core of returners, Liberty's leading scorer in 2007-08 (16.0 ppg), the Plano, Texas native is the second-leading scorer returning in the conference. Chavis Holmes tallied 18.3 points per game for VMI, but only accounted for 20 percent of the Keydets' offense, while Smith was responsible for 23 percent of Liberty's offense.
B.J. Jenkins enjoyed a sophomore campaign where he set career highs in points (317), rebounds (140), assists (95) and steals (44), while shooting 80.3 percent (57-of-71) from the charity stripe. Ohman chipped in 8.2 points per game, and hit 82.8 percent (24-of-29) from the free throw line, in addition to his three-point marksmanship. Jeremy Anderson missed the first nine games of the season after having surgery to his foot on Nov. 8, but bounced back quickly, earning inclusion on the Big South All-Freshman team, while averaging 6.8 points per game.
Basketball Times ranked Liberty's recruiting class in the nation's Top 50, as a slew of newcomers will matriculate in the fall. Incoming freshmen include Seth Curry, Brolin Floyd, Mike Lewis, Carter McMasters and Austin Smith. Junior college transfer Sammy Jackson is the sixth signee in next year's class.
Redshirt-sophomore Tyler Baker will return to the hardwood next season, after sitting out this year with a medical hardship. Baker connected on 39.7 percent of his three-point attempts during his first season with Liberty. Spring 2007 signee and current Liberty student, Johnny Stephene, will also join the group of talented freshmen for the 2008-09 campaign.