LYNCHBURG, Va. — Saturday afternoon marks the final non-conference game at home for the Liberty Flames.
Liberty is off to its best start in a season since the 2008-09 campaign, which was head coach Ritchie McKay’s first stint with the Flames. At 7-3, Liberty currently has the most wins out of any team in the Big South Conference, and they have won five of their last six games heading into Saturday.
The Flames will host the Kentucky Christian Knights, who will be playing their second Division I team in a row. Liberty will then head to Louisiana for the New Orleans Shootout before beginning conference play at the end of December to close out the 2017 calendar year.
While the game serves as an exhibition for the Knights, the Flames will look to iron out any kinks that they may have before the grind of conference play begins.
Here’s what you need to know in advance of Saturday’s showdown between the Flames and the Knights.
The Knights currently sit at 8-8 overall in the regular season, but are coming off an exhibition loss to the Morehead State Eagles in their last outing, 85-57. They played the Eagles tight in the first half, and were only down 11 at the break, before Morehead State pulled away in the second frame.
First year head coach Akeem Scott has a young roster at his disposal this season. The Knights have eight freshmen listed on their official roster, compared to just four seniors. Add in the fact that the tallest player on their roster stands at 6’4”, Scott needs to get creative with his lineups on a nightly basis.
In terms of their regular season record, Kentucky Christian has won four straight games, and are playing some of their best basketball of the young season. Against a bigger Liberty team, the Knights will look to use their momentum to keep things close from the start.
Liberty, on the other hand, will be looking to continue their strong start to the season and pick up their eighth win before heading on the road for three games. With conference play just around the corner, the Flames want to keep their positive momentum and keep playing their game.
Last time out, Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz hit a buzzer-beating three pointer in overtime to send the Flames to the 77-74 road win over the Georgia State Panthers. It marked the second overtime game in the span of three games for the Flames, but they managed to come away victorious when all was said and done.
Pacheco-Ortiz was featured by CollegeInsider.com in an ‘Off the Bounce’ feature this week, and Angela Lento tabbed him as ‘the best kept secret at point guard in the country.’ It was some high praise for the second-year point guard, but praise that is well deserved.
As a team, Liberty ranks 17th in the nation in terms of scoring defense. They are holding teams to an average of 61.5 points per contest this season. They have only allowed three teams to score more than 70 points in a game, and two of those were overtime contests.
Through their first 10 games, the Flames have been getting contributions from all over their roster. Nine different players have seen action in at least nine games, and are averaging at least 3.8 points and 15 minutes per contest. The 2017-18 edition of the Flames are deep, and everyone is contributing. Their freshmen contingent – Keegan McDowell, Isaiah Williams, and Elijah Cuffee – are all playing prominent roles early on in their careers.
Players to Watch
Liberty – Isaiah Williams
The reigning Big South Freshman of the Week is coming off another strong week, one that saw him post eight points, four rebounds, and four assists in the Flames’ win over Georgia State. He followed that up with nine points in a win over the Maryland Eastern Shore Hawks last Friday. The 6’7” forward has been a serviceable role player for McKay early in his career, and has earned the trust of his head coach. Williams is shooting over 51% from the floor through his first 10 games, and is averaging 6.5 points per contest. Against the Knights, look for Williams to see his fair share of playing time, and a career day could be on the horizon.
Kentucky Christian – Cole Gilliland
Gilliland is a 6’4” freshman forward from Portsmouth, Ohio. Against the Morehead State Eagles in the Knights’ last outing, Gilliland went for 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds. He was effective from the floor, going 5-for-9 on the day, including 2-of-3 from three point range. Nobody stands taller than 6’4” for the Knights, so Gilliland will be tasked with battling bigger forwards from the Flames. He will need to utilize his shooting ability to stretch out the defense and create good looks at the basket for himself and his teammates.
Like they did against Morehead State, look for the Knights to keep things close early on against the Flames. As the game wears on, Liberty’s size and depth will become too much for Kentucky Christian. The Flames will stretch their lead to double-figures by the half, and pull away in the second frame for a lopsided victory, much to the delight of their home crowd.
Kentucky Christian: 53
– T. Bennett