LYNCHBURG, Va. — With their big road win in exhibition play still fresh in their minds, the Liberty Flames get their 2017-18 season underway on Friday evening.
For the third year in a row, and second under head coach Ritchie McKay, the Flames welcome the Clarks Summit Defenders to Lynchburg, VA for a non-conference match-up. Liberty hold a perfect 4-0 record all-time against the Defenders, with their most recent victory coming by a final score of 81-33 last season.
As the 2017-18 season gets rolling, there’s a lot of positive buzz surrounding the Flames. In exhibition play, Liberty went on the road and picked up a big win over the VCU Rams, 85-69. Filled with confidence from their win, the Flames look to carry that momentum into the regular season.
In a talent-packed Big South Conference, the Flames are widely considered as one of the top teams in the ten-team league. In the Big South Conference preseason polls, Liberty was picked to finish third in the regular season standings. The Flames received one first-place vote, and finished just three points behind the Winthrop Eagles for second spot.
Friday’s game against the Defenders marks the fifth straight season that the Flames have opened things up with a home contest. Last season, Liberty opened up their season with an 81-53 victory over another non-Division I opponent, in Cairn University.
Against the Defenders last season, forward Myo Baxter-Bell went for 16 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists in the win. Baxter-Bell is one of four returning starters for the Flames this season, along with guards Lovell Cabbil, Ryan Kemrite, and Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz.
Both Kemrite and Pacheco-Ortiz were named to the Preseason All-Big South Second Team.
Kemrite led the Flames in scoring last season, as he averaged 13.3 points per contest. Caleb Homesley finished second on the team in scoring as a redshirt freshman, averaging 12.9 points per game in just ten games.
Coming off of a strong showing at the FIBA Under-19 World Cup in Cairo, Egypt over the summer, Pacheco-Ortiz looks poised to take another step forwards as a sophomore and assert himself as one of the top point guards in the Big South. He averaged 8.6 points and 2.6 assists per game a year ago.
Liberty has a healthy mix of newcomers and experienced players this season. The Flames welcome six new faces to a team that finished 19th in the nation in points allowed per game (63.4 ppg). Despite the higher amount of newcomers, look for the Flames to be among the nation’s top defending teams in 2017-18.
In their 2016-17 meeting, the Flames held the Defenders to just 33 points on 11-of-51 (21.6%) shooting. Only four players recorded a point for Clarks Summit, and they were led by 15 points from guard Dontier Phelps and 12 points from Kyron Jones.
Both Phelps and Jones are gone from last season, and they return only one player who scored against the Flames last season in forward John McCloskey, who had three points in 14 minutes off the bench. With seven freshmen on the 2017-18 roster for the Defenders, it could be another long night on Friday for Clarks Summit.
Following their game with the Defenders, the Flames head on the road to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons before they return to Lynchburg to host the 2017 U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam from November 17-19.
Friday’s game tips off at 7:00pm EST. Check back for post-game notes and reaction from College Court Report.
– T. Bennett