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Liberty men's basketball eyes NCAA tourney after school-record 24th win

With its defeat of Kennesaw State 76-59 on Tuesday, which was Senior Night, the Liberty men’s basketball team collected its 24th win of the season. Never before have the Flames won that many games in a single season since they entered Division I college basketball in 1988.

Led by a trio of upperclassmen — Lovell Cabbil Jr., Caleb Homesley and Scottie James — and head coach Ritchie McKay, the Flames have their sights set on reaching the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time. They are tied atop the Atlantic Sun Conference with a 13-2 conference record.

Liberty University, located in Lynchburg, Va., was founded by the late pastor Jerry Falwell Sr., and is one of the largest Christian universities in the world.

McKay is finishing up his fourth season as the Liberty men’s basketball coach. He previously coached the Flames in 2008 and in 2009, when they won 23 games. McKay, who came to faith at 18, says he feels free to be who God has called him to be at Liberty.

“I’ve always been unashamed of who I am in Christ,” McKay said on a recent episode of the Sports Spectrum Podcast.

One of his favorite aspects of his role as a coach is encouraging a group of young men as they grow as individuals. McKay has created a culture around the Liberty basketball program in which the players are encouraged not to fear failure and play for something bigger than themselves.

“I’m not sure if we out-talent many (teams),” McKay said, “but I do think our guys have really bought in to playing for one another, and that’s been neat to be a part of.”

No matter how the Flames’ season comes to an end, McKay will always remember this year as a success. He’s seen a group of young men put aside individual stats and come together to take the basketball program to heights it has never reached.

“I feel like our guys have done some magnificent things this year,” McKay said after the record-setting win against Kennesaw State. “… We’ve got a good team. They pass the ball well. They play for one another. So I’m really proud of them.”

The Flames take the court again Friday in their final game of the regular season against NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology), as they seek to secure an Atlantic Sun Conference title. The conference tournament will begin Monday, and the winner from that will earn the Atlantic Sun’s berth in the NCAA Tournament.

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