Flaming Hot in the Hornets Nest
The Flames men’s basketball team has begun its season with a 2-0 start after defeating the Charlotte 49ers in the “He Gets Us” Hall of Fame series that was held on the Charlotte Hornets hardwood, the Spectrum Center. The Flames put up 71 points in a dominant 71-59 showing.
“That’s a really good win for us simply because you may not be able to see (it) now, but Charlotte’s going to win a lot of games,” Flames Head Coach Ritchie McKay said postgame. “Coach Burns does a terrific job. I know that staff well, and we have the benefit of playing them maybe a little bit early while they’re still trying to get their sea legs, and that was fortunate. But, man, I really like our team. They’re a connected group. They really don’t care about individual accolades, that maybe there’s a propensity at that.”
With the Flames and 49ers at center court, the ball was tipped and Zach Cleveland won the tip for the Flames. After a missed shot and a turnover from redshirt junior guard and transfer Kaden Metheny, Charlotte took the ball to the other end and opened all scoring on a one-for-two trip to the line.
Charlotte attempted to build on its 1-0 lead with incredibly trap-heavy defense, but with a nice outlet pass for senior forward Kyle Rode, and an open three, the Flames were on the board. Soon after, Liberty would go up 8-3 after five straight from Metheny.
The Flames managed to maintain that 5-or-so-point lead for the next few minutes of play; that is, until they went on a 12-2 that spanned 3:41 seconds and grew the Flames’ lead to 23-10.
The Flames managed to keep the 49ers at arm’s length for the remainder of the first half and went into the locker room with the score at 35-23. Junior guard Brody Peebles led all scorers with 8 points after two back-to-back threes.
“Brody scored 3000 points in high school, so he’s always been a flamethrower,” McKay said. “He decided to stay in a day and age where you’re looking for instant gratification or something that you want, maybe before it’s been earned. Brody’s waited this out, and he’s continued to develop. He’s an elite shooter. Every time he shoots it, you think it’s going in. So I want him to keep throwing those flames.”
As the second half got underway, the Flames were able to maintain the cushion they had carved out for themselves in the first, but momentum began to slip out of their grasp. That is until they began to regain their swagger.
Sophomore guard Colin Porter trained a triple with around 17 minutes left to play, and as soon as it left his fingertips, the whole arena knew it was good. Cleveland contributed to that swagger by packing a layup attempt and talking some trash to the 49er that he blocked. By the 13:00 minute mark, momentum was firmly back in the Flames’ grasp after a big layup attempt from senior big man Shiloh Robinson.
The Flames turned that momentum into a scoring run and went on a 7-0 run that pushed the score to 54-36 with less than 11 minutes left to play. The 49ers tried to mount an answer with a layup of their own, but another big layup from Cleveland kept the Flames in control.
The final nail in the coffin came from Rode. After a hard foul on Cleveland with 4:35 left to play, Rode was heated after watching his teammate hit the floor hard, and he channeled that into drilling a contested three in the corner over the outstretched arm of a 49er defender. After the three from Rode, the Flames led 65-48, and they would go on to cruise to the final buzzer and defeat Charlotte 71-59.
Rode led all Flames scorers with 20 points while shooting an astonishing 4-8 from beyond the arc. Peebles ended with 13 and shot 2-4 from three.
“Kyle Rode, I referenced him as mystique,” McKay said. “Is that the X-Man character? He can really morph into whatever you need. He can score 30, he can take two shots, he can be a playmaker, he can guard any position, and then there’s his character. You guys haven’t seen us a lot, but he’s literally the best leader that I’ve ever coached in 35 years.”
The Flames, after their first two outings, have scored a total of 174 points and have won both of their games. Next up for Liberty is the Furman Paladins in game one of the Myrtle Beach Invitational Nov. 16.
Palsgrove is the asst. sports editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on X