LYNCHBURG, Va. — Due to severe damage in the U.S. Virgin Islands as a result of the multiple hurricanes and natural disasters over the summer months, the 2017 Paradise Jam was relocated to Lynchburg, VA, home of the Liberty Flames.
On Friday, the three-day event tips off with the home team taking part in the first contest. Twelve games will be played over the weekend, with some potential marquee match-ups on the horizon.
However, one of the top match-ups that the event could produce happens to be the one that kicks everything off. The host Flames take on the senior-laden Mercer Bears to open the event.
With both teams expected to contend in their respective conferences in 2017-18, the opener of the 2017 Paradise Jam won’t disappoint.
Coming into Friday’s opener, the Flames have a perfect 2-0 record on the young season, notching wins over the Clarks Summit Defenders and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
Mercer, on the other hand, come in at 2-1 on the year, with their lone loss coming in their opener against the UCF Knights.
Liberty’s 79-66 win over the Demon Deacons on Tuesday was their first win over a team from the ACC since November 15th, 2008, when the Flames beat the Virginia Cavaliers.
Lovell Cabbil had 22 points, seven rebounds, and four steals against the Demon Deacons, while Ryan Kemrite chipped in with 17 points in the win.
Across their first two games, the Flames are among the nation’s top teams in terms of scoring defense. Liberty has allowed 54.0 points per contest. In an interview with Andy Katz in advance of the Paradise Jam, head coach Ritchie McKay credited the team’s exhibition game against the VCU Rams for their win against the Demon Deacons, and their strong start overall likely stems from that game.
With several veterans on the roster, the freshmen for the Flames have also played a big part in their strong start to 2017-18. The trio of Elijah Cuffie, Keegan McDowell and Isaiah Williams have combined to average 23.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game over the first two contests.
On Friday, the Flames will be tested by a senior-heavy Mercer squad that is expected to contend for the Southern Conference title this season.
Led by senior guard Ria’n Holland, who is averaging a team-high 22.0 points to go along with 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, the Bears are a veteran team who know what it takes to win. They have size and experience across the roster, two key things that you simply cannot teach.
Add in veterans like Jordan Strawberry, Desmond Ringer, and Stephon Jelks, and it’s easy to see why people are so high on Mercer this season. Then, add in the emergence of sophomore Ethan Stair, who has a pair of 12-point games under his belt this season and ranks second on the team in scoring with 11.0 points per game, and the future looks bright for Mercer moving forwards.
Mercer comes into the event ranked 16th in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 rankings. Liberty received 12 votes in this week’s poll, which is chaired by Liberty head coach Ritchie McKay.
Friday marks the first-ever meeting between the two programs.
Tip-off for the opener is set for 12:00pm EST. The winner will face the winner of the game between the Drexel Dragons and Houston Cougars on Saturday, with the others squaring off in the consolation side of the bracket the same day.
In conjunction with the tournament, Liberty University will donate all of the tournament gate receipts to the humanitarian relief efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands in order to assist with the recovery due to the hurricane destruction. The tournament will be streamed by FloHoops with Andy Katz on the call.
– T. Bennett