Defensive Dominance: Liberty Men’s Basketball Coast To Victory Against Missouri

The fortress that is Liberty Arena never saw a loss through its first season, and some expected Missouri to hand the Flames that first loss. Things did not quite turn out that way, however, during the Flames’ matchup with Missouri Dec. 2. 

Missouri competes in the SEC, a premier conference in basketball that sent six teams to the NCAA tournament last season, including Missouri. 

It was understandable and respectable that a team like Regent, who competes in the NCCAA, a league that is generally seen as between DII and III in terms of talent, only registered 12 points in the first half in its outing against the Flames last month. 

Missouri, by comparison, scored 14 in the first half against the Flames. For a team that beat Liberty 69-60 last season, Thursday’s game was a disappointment. 

From the start, a scrappy opening tipoff went to the Flames, and forward Kyle Rode kept the ball in Liberty’s possession by preventing an over-and-back violation. Rode also set a screen that guard Darius McGhee darted around before putting up a 3-point shot to open the scoring and the cheers inside Liberty Arena. 

The Flames kept up their offensive prowess through exceptional 3-point shooting with 18 points coming from beyond the arc in the first half.  

What destroyed the Tigers, however, was Liberty’s defense. The Flames’ Pack Line defense crippled Missouri, who went an abysmal 3-21 from the field in the first – the only shots made all coming from forward Kobe Brown. 

Turnovers also played a huge factor in Missouri’s downfall as the Tigers had more giveaways than points in the first half (15 to 14). 

Ultimately, Missouri could never rebound from the first-half deficit, and the Flames finished off the Tigers 66-45. The win marked the first win against a Power Five school in the Liberty Arena. The last time that a Power Five school came to Liberty was in 2009 when Clemson demolished Liberty 79-39 and the Flames played in the Vines Center. 

Following the game, Head Coach Ritchie McKay praised his team’s defense.

“I thought our defensive effort was excellent,” McKay said. “That was as well as we’ve played for 40 minutes defensively, including our scrimmages.” 

Standout players for the Flames were McGhee and forward Shiloh Robinson. McGhee put up 20 points along with four assists. Robinson’s 15 points marked a career-high for the forward. He acknowledged that the atmosphere in the arena helped his game.

“It really helped us with the excitement,” Robinson said. “With cheering and stuff, it really helped us get momentum and keep it.”

The Flames played Delaware St. Dec. 6, and Liberty’s next game is against Stephen F. Austin in the Hall of Flames Classic in Fort Worth, Texas, Dec. 11.

RANDLE is the sports editor. Follow him on Twitter

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