Liberty men's basketball had a historical 2016-17 season where they finished in a tie for second place in the Big South Conference under head coach Ritchie McKay. In his second season since returning to Liberty, McKay and the Flames set new records throughout the year that show promise for the future of this program.
Liberty tested themselves to begin the season with a challenging non-conference schedule. Liberty faced six teams that made postseason tournaments, including an Indiana team that was ranked in the top five in the country at that time. Surviving that gauntlet, the Flames managed seven victories during their non-conference slate.
The challenging schedule paid off when conference play rolled around as Liberty won a school record 14 games in the Big South during the regular season. Liberty also won a school record seven straight road games in the Big South. The Flames posted the best scoring defense in conference play, allowing just 63.4 points per contest.
Four players earned All-Big South honors as Ryan Kemrite was named second team All-Big South as well as to the Big South All-Academic team. Kemrite led Liberty in scoring this year, averaging 13.2 points per game, shooting 48.7 percent from the field. For the second straight year, John Dawson earned Big South all-honorable mention honors. The senior started in every game this season averaging, 8.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and a team-high 2.7 assists.
The final two players to receive awards were up and coming Flames in Myo Baxter-Bell and Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz being named to the Big South All-Freshman team. Baxter-Bell was a consistent threat in the post for the Flames in his first season, averaging 7.9 points and 3.4 rebounds. As a freshman, Pacheco-Ortiz excelled as the floor general, posting the best assist-to-turnover ratio during conference games with a 3.4 ratio. For the season, Pacheco-Ortiz averaged 8.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists while leading the team in total minutes played.
Liberty's 20-win season gained national attention as McKay was a finalist for the Ben Jobe award, which recognizes the top Division I minority basketball coach. McKay was also nominated for the Skip Prosser Man of the Year, which recognizes the coach who achieved the most success on the court with integrity off the court. Since being a member of Division I, Liberty has posted four 20-win seasons, with two of those seasons coming under McKay (2016-17 and 2008-09).
Liberty returns a wealth of talent in four of its five starters this year. Three of Liberty's five starters this year were underclassmen in Lovell Cabbil, Baxter-Bell and Pacheco-Ortiz. Of the 66.6 points that Liberty averaged this year on offense, the Flames return 49.6 of those points. The Flames will also rely on their senior leadership with a pair of seniors in Kemrite and Ezra Talbert. Big man transfer, Scottie James, will be eligible to play next season and Caleb Homesley will return from injury.
The Flames will add depth as they welcome four freshmen to the program in Jay Barber, Elijah Cuffee, Keegan McDowell and Brendan Newton. Barber and Cuffee make their way from down the road, attending Liberty Christian Academy while McDowell played for one of the best high school teams in the country, Moeller High School, from the state of Ohio. Newton, who was a late addition, is also from the state of Virginia, having played at Faith Christian School in Roanoke.
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