Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Liberty clinches back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for first time ever

The Liberty men’s basketball team punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with a 73-57 win over Lipscomb on Sunday in the ASUN Conference Tournament championship game. This trip to the Big Dance will be the Flames’ second in a row — a first in program history — and fifth overall since they began play in 1972-1973.

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The 2019-2020 edition of the Flames will be dangerous in this year’s tournament, boasting a 30-4 overall record and a lineup brimming with experienced talent, like redshirt seniors Caleb Homesley and Scottie James. Last season, Liberty upset No. 5 seed Mississippi State in the first round — its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory — before falling to Virginia Tech, 67-58, in the second round.

“Really proud of our group,” head coach Ritchie McKay said on WDBJ7.com after the victory over Lipscomb. “They played really well today, and I think their maturity and the way we endured the struggles and the ups and downs during the season, I think it’s a testament to just how faithful they are to our mission and our program’s advancement.”

McKay is in the fifth season of his second stint as the Flames’ head man. He previously coached Liberty for two seasons from 2007-2009, then left to become an associate head coach under Tony Bennett at Virginia until 2015, before returning to Liberty. Each of the five seasons since his return to Lynchburg, Va., have been better than the previous.

Coaching at Liberty, one of the largest Christian universities in the world, has always suited McKay nicely. The Christ-centered culture on campus attracts students from far and wide, and it attracted McKay as well. On an episode of the Sports Spectrum Podcast last year, McKay said he is comfortable at Liberty, where he feels free to live out his faith.

“I’ve always been unashamed of who I am in Christ,” he said, adding, “I get the privilege of doing life with a bunch of young men and some coaches that are just fabulous. 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.”

The Flames will learn who and where they’ll be playing during the NCAA Selection Show this Sunday at 6 p.m. ET on CBS. Liberty is currently projected by ESPN.com to be a No. 12 seed for the second consecutive year.

The first round of the NCAA Tournament will take place on Thursday, March 19, and Friday, March 20.

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