Flames present a tough challenge for high-profile teams
After a solid start to the 2008-09 basketball season, Liberty’s men’s program appears to be on the rise with an arsenal of talented freshman and a handful of hoop-savvy upperclassmen.
Following a defeat to conference rival UNC Asheville on Nov. 18, the Flames turned a tough road loss into motivation, going on a five-game winning streak.
The string of victories began on Nov. 25 as Liberty travelled to Charlottesville, Va., and squeaked past the University of Virginia Cavaliers, 86-82. Junior Kyle Ohman and freshman Seth Curry led the offensive flurry with 26 points apiece followed by senior Anthony Smith who chipped in 21.
The Flames returned to the Vines Center on Nov. 28-29, hosting the Liberty Thanksgiving Classic. In the finals of the four-team tournament, LU bested Commonwealth competitor William & Mary in a thrilling double overtime contest, 80-74.
Liberty followed up the pair of extra periods with another overtime win against a former NCAA Final Four participant, George Mason University, on Dec. 1. Just 17 seconds before the end of regulation, Curry hit a three-pointer, knotting the contest at 61. The freshman’s late-game heroics rescued the Flames from a near defeat and sent the Monday night nail biter into overtime. During the extra period, Curry made two clutch free throws to lead Liberty to a 69-66 win over the Patriots.
Just 24 hours after a Saturday afternoon victory over Gardner-Webb at home, the Flames travelled to South Carolina on Dec. 7 to take on Clemson. Despite leading the contest by as much as 10 points in the second half, the Tigers responded with a 17-6 run, ultimately halting the Flames’ winning streak, 80-75.
On Dec. 8, Liberty debuted at No. 13 in CollegeInsider.com’s Top 25 Mid-Major poll, vaulting itself in front of George Mason and Big South rival VMI. Garnering 49 votes, the achievement marks the first time the Flames have infiltrated the rankings. It is also the first time the poll has featured two Big South squads.
During Liberty’s five-game run, Curry garnered national attention from various sports media outlets, including a nod from ESPN’s Dick Vitale who tapped the Charlotte, N.C., native as his Diaper Dandy of the Week, an honor given to an outstanding freshman in college basketball.
While fans and members of the media are quick to take notice of Curry’s play and basketball heritage, he is just one of seven freshmen acquired by head coach Ritchie McKay in the offseason. The coach’s Top 50 recruiting class also includes guards Brolin Floyd, Jesse Sanders, Johnny Stephene, Bill Weaver, forward Austin Smith and center Carter McMasters.
If the start of this season is any indication of what is to come, Liberty could perhaps be in store for future success on college basketball courts across the country.
To keep track of Flames basketball throughout the 2008-09 campaign, check out libertyflames.com.