Flames win sixth game in a row, drown Bucs
The Liberty Flames men’s basketball team (17-10, 12-2) defeated the Charleston Southern Buccaneers (8-17, 4-10) 76-69, to mark its sixth straight win and keep the Flames tied for first place in the Big South
The Flames victory came less than 48 hours after a double overtime comeback win against Gardner-Webb Thursday, Feb. 9.
“We got in at 2:15 (a.m. on Friday)” Head Coach Ritchie McKay said.
“We couldn’t do much in practice yesterday, and we knew Charleston Southern is one of those teams that can really get away from you offensively. So we had to do a great job on the defensive end.”
The Flames defense held the Buccaneers to just 37.5 percent shooting from the field and forced 11 turnovers.
McKay’s “Pack Line Defense” has been a large part of the team’s success this season, as the Flames lead the Big South Conference in average points allowed per game with 63.6.
The Buccaneers took an early 6-2 lead courtesy of back-to-back uncontested 3-point shots.
But the Flames buckled down on defense and were given a spark from junior guard Ryan Kemrite, who knocked down his first four shots from beyond the arc to help put the Flames up 18-12 with eight minutes left in the first half.
“They wouldn’t leave Ryan Kemrite,” McKay said.
“That created more space for the other guys.”
The Buccaneers tightly guarded the perimeter, and that opened up the door for the Flames to take control of the paint.
Freshman forward Myo Baxter-Bell led the way for the Flames on the inside game. Baxter-Bell tied his career high in points with 19, and he also had seven rebounds and three assists.
“(Baxter-Bell) is a unique player,” McKay said.
“He’s got some Charles Barkley in him, a guy that’s undersized but likes to be 10 feet. I’m confident in Myo. I think he’s very, very unselfish. I think he’s very hard to guard one-on-one in the post. He’s going to be a terrific player in this league. He already is for us, but I think he’s got a chance to have a really good career.”
The Buccaneers showed signs of life late in the first half with a 10-0 run, putting the game at 33-27.
But the Flames would get back to their defensive roots and also feed Baxter-Bell the ball on offense, as his four straight free throws would help the Flames close the first half with a 37-27 lead.
The Flames started the second half on a 6-0 run to fortify the lead with the help of assists coming from freshman guard Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz, who had a career-high eight assists on the night.
The Buccaneers would rally back late in the second half to cut the Flames lead to just two points at 59-57, but the Flames remained calm under pressure and went on a 9-1 run to secure a lead the Buccaneers would not extinguish.
“You gotta believe in the system,” sophomore guard Lovell Cabbil said.
“Toward the end we dug down and (were) able to get the shots we needed. … Know what works, even if they get a couple buckets. Don’t get too down on yourself. Just keep believing.”
Despite going 12-2 in conference play and being tied with UNC Asheville for first place in the Big South with only four games remaining, the Flames are still focused on winning one game at a time.
“We have a saying, ‘We go 1-0,’” Baxter-Bell said.
“We try not to look too much at the record, and we just focus on each game.”
The Flames were picked second in the Big South men’s basketball preseason, and McKay believes this team has the talent and potential to take the crown.
“This is new territory for us,” McKay said.
“We’re tied for first place. This team is capable of much, although I think we’re ahead of schedule. I wouldn’t put anything past this group. We have the mindset and the humility that, if we’re not right, we can get beat by anyone, but if we’re right, we can
The Flames will aim to continue the win streak when they play High Point Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. in the Vines Center.