Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Liberty men's basketball punches first ticket to Big Dance in six years

The Atlantic Sun Tournament championship game on Sunday was one of those epic back-and-forth basketball games. The kind of contest that displayed what March Madness is all about. And in the end, it was the Liberty Flames coming away with a trip to the NCAA Tournament by beating Lipscomb 74-68.

Scottie James’ layup with 55.8 seconds left gave Liberty a lead it would not relinquish and Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz hit a dagger 3-pointer with 14.8 seconds remaining to catapult the Flames to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013.

The back-and-forth contest saw Liberty lead by one point at halftime, 29-28. Neither team had a lead of more than four in the second half until the final minute of the game. James, the tournament MVP, led the Flames with 17 points and nine rebounds. Pacheco-Ortiz chipped in with 16 points.

ASUN regular-season MVP Garrison Mathews led Lipscomb with 21 points. Liberty (28-6) switched to the ASUN Conference this year after playing in the Big South Conference previously. It split the regular-season title with Lipscomb and earned its fourth NCAA Tournament bid overall.

Last month, Liberty coach Ritchie McKay told Sports Spectrum that he felt really good about his team, and Sunday that team rewarded him with a conference title and a ticket to the Big Dance.

“I get the privilege of doing life with a bunch of young men and some coaches that are just fabulous,” McKay said. “I think Liberty attracts a really, really neat individual because of its university’s mission and its commitment to it. We’ve just been able to draw some guys that wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

Liberty — founded by the late pastor Jerry Falwell Sr., and one of the largest Christian universities in the world — will have to wait seven days to find out who and where it will play in the NCAA Tournament, as the full bracket is revealed March 17 on CBS.

RELATED STORIES:
NEW PODCAST: Ritchie McKay, Liberty Men’s Basketball Coach
MAGAZINE: North Carolina’s Luke Maye is headlining the Heels
Former Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze to become Liberty’s new head coach
Virginia coach Tony Bennett says his faith in Christ is the “greatest truth” he knows