LYNCHBURG, Va. — The 2018 calendar is now more than a day old, and the first full slate of college basketball is upon us. After a quiet Monday night that featured just 10 games across the country, the college basketball season is in full swing once again with a plethora of intriguing pairings on Tuesday.
One of the match-ups that should peak the interest of fans will take place in Lynchburg, Virginia, as the Charleston Southern Buccaneers visit the Liberty Flames in the second Big South game of the season for both teams.
Charleston Southern ended the 2017 calendar year with a two game winning streak, sending them into the New Year with a boost of positive momentum. On the flip side, the Flames have lost two of their last three contests overall, and are looking to get back on the right track when they take on the Buccaneers.
Here’s what you need to know in advance of Tuesday’s Big South contest between Charleston Southern and Liberty.
Charleston Southern hasn’t been able to build much positive momentum this season so far. More, it’s been a season of streaks for the Buccaneers, who started the year with a two game losing streak before rattling off four straight wins. From there, they went on to lose their next four games, three of which were by single digits.
Now, it’s a new year, and the Buccaneers are riding a two game winning streak. They are looking to knock off Liberty and make it three straight games, sustaining their positive momentum for another game. They have lost the last two meeting with the Flames, and are just 9-21 on the road against Liberty. It’s not a perfect recipe for the Buccaneers, but anything can happen in college basketball.
Star sophomore Christian Keeling is leading the way for the Buccaneers, averaging a team-high 18.3 points per game, up a full point from his freshman average (17.3). He has four 20+ point games to his name this season, and now has 14 such performances over his collegiate career thus far. He is one of the top scoring guards in the country, and doesn’t get the attention he quite deserves on a national scale.
Not to be outdone, 6’6” junior Travis McConico has enjoyed a strong start to his career with the Buccaneers. He is averaging 13.1 points and a team-high 5.8 rebounds per game through 12 games. The transfer from Florida State College picked up right where he left off as a JUCO star, and is a threat both inside the paint and from the three point arc. McConico is shooting 41.9% from three point range this season, and 46.6% from the floor overall.
The duo of McConico and Keeling will look to lead the Buccaneers to a 2-0 start in conference play, and a three game winning streak overall.
As for the Flames, they are looking to get back to their winning ways after struggling over their final three games of 2017. Liberty has lost two of their last three, and opened up Big South play with a 58-55 loss to the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs in their conference opener on December 30th.
Despite their recent struggles, the Flames have had success against the Buccaneers in the past. They are 35-28 all-time against Charleston Southern, and 5-3 with Ritchie McKay as the Flames’ head coach. Liberty has won back-to-back games against the Buccaneers, and will look to make it three in a row on Tuesday night on their home floor.
With his 11-point, 13-rebound performance against Gardner-Webb, forward Scottie James now ranks 44th in the country with 9.1 rebounds per contest. He leads Liberty in that category, while also ranking second on the team with 12.6 points per game. James has two double-doubles over the last three games, pushing his total to five on the year. The 6’7” sophomore will be a factor on both ends of the floor on Tuesday, much like he has been all season long. James will be a handful for the Buccaneers, and will likely draw the match-up of Travis McConico.
On the back end, Lovell Cabbil leads the Flames in scoring, averaging 12.7 points per contest. He has hit a bit of a persona scoring drought, reaching double figures just twice in his last five games. However, he did put up 21 points in a 96-40 win at home over Kentucky Christian on December 16th, so he is a threat to go for 20+ points each time out. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz (9.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg) and Ryan Kemrite (10.5 ppg) round out a talented back court trio for the Flames.
Liberty ranks fourth in the nation in terms of free throw shooting, hitting on 79% of their attempts as a team this season. Their ability to capitalize on free points will be the difference maker in close games over the course of the season, and with the history of close games between the Flames and Buccaneers, their free throw shooting could very well seal the deal on a win come Tuesday night.
Players to Watch
Charleston Southern – Christian Keeling
Christian Keeling missed three games to start the 2017-18 season, and the Buccaneers went 1-2 during that span. Their win came against a non-Division I opponent, while they lost the other two games by an average of 35 points. Since Keeling made his debut on November 18th against the USC Upstate Spartans, the sophomore guard is averaging 18.3 points and 1.7 assists per game, both of which top his freshman averages. Add in his 5.6 rebounds per game, and Keeling hasn’t missed a beat. He has scored in double-figures all nine times he’s stepped on the court this season, and had a four game streak with 20 or more points that stretched from the end of November and into the second week of December. Against the stingy defense of the Flames, Keeling will need to get a little creative when finding ways to score.
Liberty – Ryan Kemrite
Tuesday could be a big night for Ryan Kemrite, as he looks to join a pair of exclusive lists with the Liberty Flames. The senior from Conroe, TX is just eight points shy of 1,000 for his career. He would become the 25th player in Liberty men’s basketball history to eclipse the 1,000-point mark when the time comes. He would also become the 21st player in school history with 1,000 points and 300 rebounds over the course of his career with the Flames. Kemrite is averaging 10.5 points, which ranks third on the team, and 3.2 rebounds per game this season. He saw his streak of five straight games with double-digit points come to an end last time out, but all signs point to Kemrite notching his 1,000th point on Tuesday night on his home court.
Liberty’s offense has struggled as of late, scoring below their season average in four of their last five games. Two of those games have resulted in losses, and the Flames have limped into the New Year slightly. On Tuesday, they will look to continue their recent success against a Buccaneers’ team that has gone for 102 and 84 points in their last two games.
Both teams have similar numbers this season, and both hold their opponents to under 69 points per game. Liberty’s scoring defense ranks 12th in the nation, holding opponents under 62 points per game. They have only allowed five teams to score 70 or more points this season, and are 3-2 in those games.
Tuesday night will be a low-scoring affair, as both teams will be held below their seasonal averages on the offensive end. However, on their home floor, the Flames will find their groove and notch their first conference win of the season, extending their winning streak against the Buccaneers to three games in the process.
Liberty – 66
Charleston Southern – 56
– T. Bennett