Men’s Basketball Caps Regular Season with Win over High Point
The Liberty men’s basketball team concluded the regular season by defeating High Point University 65-45, Feb. 24 in the Vines Center, to clinch the 5th seed and a first round bye in the Big South Men’s Basketball Championship.
The Flames will return to the court for the Men’s Basketball Big South Championship tournament against the No. 4 seed Campbell University Thursday, March 1 in Asheville, North Carolina.
The win over the Panthers helped the team to gain momentum heading into the tournament, after a disappointing loss at home against Radford University on Feb. 22.
“I really felt like our group showed some maturity here today,” head coach Ritchie McKay said. “We were really disappointed – no one more than myself – (in) our effort (against Radford.) Radford had a lot to do with it, but I felt like there were things that we reverted back to from early in the year, when things didn’t go our way. I gave the (team) a quote, ‘Maturity isn’t reflective of your age, it’s more reflective of your ownership and responsibility,’” McKay said. “We were focused, and we battled on each possession.”
The final regular season home game also served as senior night for senior guards Ryan Kemrite and Zach Farquhar. Both players have played for Liberty for the entirety of their collegiate careers, and their contributions to the program were honored before the game. After thanking the players, coaches and fans, Kemrite dropped to a knee and proposed in Spanish to his now fiancée, Michelle Melendez, who is a Liberty volleyball alum (2015-2016).
“I did stick (the proposal),” Kemrite joked. “I don’t think many people in the crowd spoke Spanish, (but) it was pretty good.”
The Flames were without junior guard Lovell Cabbil, who sustained a knee injury in practice. Despite Cabbil’s absence, the Flames were able to produce one of their best defensive outings of the season. Liberty held High Point to a 30.8 point shooting percentage and forced the Panthers to commit 14 turnovers. The Flames also tied a season low of five turnovers – two of which were shot clock violations in the final two minutes of the game, in order to help run down the clock.
Liberty was led by their high-energy big man, sophomore power forward Scottie James as he recorded 21 points, seven rebounds and four blocks.
“It was a great team effort defensively, we shared the ball really well and we played as a team,” James said. “Guys kept finding me on the rolls or in the dunk spot and we had a lot of good drives that came off the rim that I put back, so credit (goes) to my teammates they did the hard work.”
The Panthers won the tip-off and scored the first basket a few minutes later, but the Flames took the lead by producing a 7-0 run with the help of two lay ins from James and a deep three from Kemrite. The Flames remained stingy on defense, but High Point battled back to bring the game within one point at 13-12, with 11 minutes left in the first period.
Liberty regained momentum after a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Caleb Homesley, which sparked a 10-4 run that put the Flames ahead 23-16 and was capped off with an alley-oop thrown by freshman guard Elijah Cuffee to Homesley, who slammed it down and sent the crowd to its feet.
High Point attempted to cut into the Flames lead, but Liberty’s defense remained tight and eventually entered halftime with a 30-24 lead. Coming out of halftime, the Flames were energized by James as he scored the first eight points for the Flames, giving them a 38-30 lead, four minutes into the second period.
The Panthers brought the game back within six points at 39-45 with 12 minutes left to play in the game. But Kemrite would sink a 3-pointer on the Flames following possession which would begin a 14-4 run, which gave Liberty a 62-43 lead with less than four minutes left in the game. The 3-pointer was Kemrite’s 243rd of his career, which leads Liberty in all-time 3-point shots made.
The Panthers were unable to relinquish the Flames lead in the final minutes, as they fell to Liberty 65-45.
“I think it’s pretty special that I could end on a win,” senior guard Ryan Kemrite said. “That’s something I’m really proud of, and I’m proud that I got to do it with the guys – they’re such a great group, they’re my brothers for life. This is probably the most talented team I’ve been on at Liberty. I think this team has a great shot to do big things … I don’t want to put a ceiling on what we can do.”
McKay emphasized the team’s potential heading into tournament play.
“Our group is capable, we’ve shown that we can beat the upper echelon of our league, but we’ve also shown that when we’re not right, then we’re susceptible to the outcome we least desire,” McKay said.