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Stepping Up in a Big Way

January 19, 2012
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Flames forward Antwan Burrus

The following article first appeared in issue No. 3 of the Flames Illustrated game program for the 2011-12 basketball season, which was available at the Vines Center between Dec. 31-Jan. 14. Heading in Saturday's game at High Point, Antwan Burrus is averaging 10.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

Liberty guard John Brown started all 32 contests for the Flames during the 2010-11 season. He was named to the Big South All-Conference second team.

Brown was ranked eighth in the county and led the Big South in rebounding, pulling down 10.8 boards a game. Along with his rebounding efforts, he also was the Flames' second-leading scorer and finished the year with 14 double-doubles.

Forward Sommy Ogukwe appeared in 30 contests for the Flames last season, starting in games against Notre Dame and UNC Wilmington. The Abuja, Nigeria native was a key reserve for Liberty, finishing second on the team in blocked shots with 22.

Brown and Ogukwe were expected to be great contributors for Liberty this season. However, both suffered season-ending injuries even before the season began.

So what does this mean? Who are the Flames going to rely upon to provide rebounding and defensive in the post? Who will fill this void?

Last season, Antwan Burrus was a contributor. As a sophomore, he appeared in all 32 games and started 14. The Winterville, N.C. native led the squad with 40 blocked shots, ranking fifth in the Big South Conference. He also was fifth on the team in scoring with a 6.5 points average, and was the third-leading rebounder with 4.2 boards a game.

Progress has always been demonstrated in his seasons at Liberty, including his freshman year. He did not see much action until December 12 that season, when the Flames hosted Kentucky Christian – the springboard game of his Liberty career.

Burrus came off the bench early in the first half and excited the Liberty crowd by scoring a then career-high 15 points in just 12 minutes of play. The forward went 7-for-10 from the field and grabbed five rebounds, making the most of his playing time.

Later that season, he notched his career high of 20 points against VMI. He also recorded career bests in rebounding with 13 and assists with six against the Keydets.

Fast forward to the 2010-11 season, and Burrus develops a knack for offensive rebounding. He finished 10th in the Big South with 2.3 offensive rebounds a game.

Burrus built on his reputation of being a rebounder and defender for the Flames last season. It was a role the forward embraced and saw as the place he was to make his mark for the team.

"I definitely see my role with our team as being a defender and rebounder," Burrus said midseason last year. "We have plenty of scorers, and I can score, but mostly I feel like I need to get rebounds and stop my man defensively to help us out."

So how does he fit in this year, especially with the loss of two players who were key rebounders and defenders? Plus, scorers are not as plenteous for the Flames this season. Could he be a contributor on the scoreboard as well?

"Antwan has vastly improved over each of the last two years," said Liberty Head Coach Dale Layer. "He is playing with more energy. He is more productive based on his energy level and his passion. He is assuming a greater leadership role and is maturing in every way."

In 12 contests, Burrus has reached double-figure scoring in eight games. He was a point away from tying his career high against Virginia Intermont, as he recorded 19 points and 10 rebounds.

That game also produced his third double-double so far this season. Against Lehigh, he collected 10 points and 11 rebounds. At Coastal Carolina, he recorded 12 points and 10 rebounds.

His shooting accuracy also should be heralded. Burrus claims a 53.5 field goal percentage. In eight contests this season, he has been 50 percent or better from the field. In four contests, he shot 60 percent or better, including a perfect 5-for-5 shooting against Randolph College.

And then consider his free throw shooting. On the season, he is hitting 72.7 percent from the line. Against Hampton, he was 2-for-2 from the line and contributed to the Flames' perfect charity shooting for the game, as Liberty was 18-for-18 in free throw shooting, setting a new Vines Center record.

Burrus continues to be effective defensively in the post. He leads the team with 13 blocked shots, collecting a swat in eight of the 12 contests so far. Burrus also is the last Flame to block five shots in a game, which he accomplished against Radford in January last season.

Averaging 6.4 rebounds a game, he is second on the squad and is showing almost a two-board improvement from his average last season.

"He is shouldering a greater responsibility," said Layer. "I think he is ready for that and is embracing it. There's still another level he can get to. I don't think he is at his highest all year yet. He has always been more productive in conference games."

Big South league play will soon be in full force. Starting Dec. 31, the Flames will face conference foes the rest of the way. Coach Layer believes Burrus will be a factor in how Liberty performs against Big South opponents.

"If he can fulfill his potential he could be an all-conference player," Layer said. "He can change the game defensively. He can block shots. He can score in the post."

This time last year, Layer was quoted as saying Burrus was better situated to help the Flames than he was the previous 12 months "in every area."

"If he continues to work, he will continue to make progress and help our team," he said.
Now Burrus has all-conference potential. Progress is definitely shown in his yearly performance.

The Flames still miss the contributions of Brown and Ogukwe they were expecting in the preseason. For now, keep watching how Burrus does in taking on the challenge of filling the void.

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Chris Doyle is a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics