Basketball Teams Fired Up and Ready for Big South Conference Action

October 11, 2017

Featuring lineups loaded with returning talent and promising newcomers, Liberty University’s men’s and women’s basketball teams are prepared to light up The Furnace — the Vines Center’s apt nickname — during the 2017-18 season. Here’s a look at what Flames fans can expect.

Flames forge ahead with momentum from last season

The future of Liberty University Men’s Basketball looks bright as the Flames are coming off one of the most successful seasons in program history. Liberty capped the 2016-17 campaign by winning two postseason games in the Tournament (CIT), starting with a 73-64 defeat of Norfolk State in the CIT-opening John McLendon Classic. The Flames finished 21-14 for the program’s first 20-win season since going 22-13 in 2008-09, during Head Coach Ritchie McKay’s first stint at Liberty.

Liberty won 14 games in the Big South for the first time in school history, surpassing the 2010-11 team’s 13-win mark, and also won a school-record seven straight Big South Conference (BSC) road games.

McKay was recognized as one of the nation’s best coaches when he was nominated for the Ben Jobe National Coach of the Year award, presented annually to the top minority coach in NCAA Division I men’s basketball. He was also nominated for the Skip Prosser Man of the Year award, which recognizes those who achieve success on the basketball court while displaying high moral integrity off of it.

Building on an already talented roster of returning players, McKay and his coaching staff brought in an impressive recruiting class that features five freshmen from four states, including Jay Barber and Elijah Cuffee, standouts from Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg, Va. They also added redshirt freshman transfer Isaiah Williams from Akron (Ohio). Those newcomers will complement Liberty veterans such as senior guard/forward Ryan Kemrite, junior forward Ezra Talbert, sophomore guards Caleb Homesley and Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz, junior guard Lovell Cabbil, and sophomore forward Myo Baxter-Bell.

Liberty faces a challenging 2017-18 non-conference schedule highlighted by six home games and two tournaments. Four of the Flames’ non-conference Division I opponents posted 19 wins or more last season, and three played in the postseason.

Liberty opens its season Nov. 10 at the Vines Center when it hosts Clarks Summit in the first game of the Paradise Jam. After playing at Wake Forest on Nov. 14, the Flames will complete Paradise Jam tournament play at home with three more games.

Liberty will begin BSC competition Dec. 30 at Gardner-Webb before starting its home conference schedule Jan. 2 against Charleston Southern and Jan. 6 against Presbyterian. Then the team will travel to play defending BSC tournament champion Winthrop on Jan. 9.

The Flames will conclude conference play with home contests against Radford on Feb. 22 and High Point on Feb. 24.

View the current Flames Basketball schedule.

Lady Flames to embark on ‘breakthrough season’

Sheana Vega

Head Coach Carey Green is confident that his team — which went 13-17 (12-6 in Big South Conference play) last season with a youthful roster that included only one senior and seven freshmen — is on the verge of a breakthrough season in 2017-18.

Freshmen scored 59 percent of Liberty’s points in 2016-17, paced by the trio of Keyen Green (12.3 ppg), Iva Ilic (7.0 ppg), and Ola Makurat (6.7 ppg). All three Lady Flames earned a spot on the BSC All-Freshman team, making Liberty the only NCAA Division I school in the nation with three all-freshman selections. Green, a 6-foot, 1-inch post player who led the Lady Flames in both scoring and rebounding (8.1 rpg), earned both Big South Freshman of the Year and Virginia Sports Information Directors (VaSID) Rookie of the Year honors while garnering a conference-record eight Big South Freshman of the Week honors.

In all, the Lady Flames return four starters (Green, sophomore forward Makurat, senior guard Nene Johnson, and sophomore guard/forward Lela Sellers) and seven of their top eight scorers from 2016-17.

Liberty’s lineup will be bolstered by the addition of junior guard Melis Ucar, freshman guard Ashtyn Baker, 6-5 freshman center Apilyn Bonny, and freshman guard/forward Bridgette Rettstatt. Baker was named Tennessee Miss Basketball as a senior, while Rettstatt is the younger sister of Audrey Rettstatt, the only senior on last season’s squad.

Green’s coaching staff will also have a new look this season, as Erin Batth is a new assistant coach and Dan Lumpkin is the team’s first-ever director of player development. Batth spent time in the WNBA during her playing career, while Lumpkin won over 300 games as head coach at Cleveland State Community College. Alexis Sherard, entering his 11th season on staff, was promoted to associate head coach.

View the current Lady Flames Basketball schedule.

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