No one really knew what to expect from the Liberty Flames this year. Coach Dale Layer was very much on the hot seat and he brought on a slew of junior college players to act as a quick fix for the program.
The unorthodox move definitely had its growing pains and Liberty very much looked like a team without an identity or rhythm for the first half of the year. The Flames did not win a Division I game until New Years Eve. Things got so bad that one of the team's new JUCO transfers, Jarred Jourdan, quit the team in December.
The lack of consistency remained throughout the Big South season as Liberty would finish as the fifth seed in the North Division with a record of 6-10. The Flames did not win back-to-back Division I games the whole regular season. So heading to Myrtle Beach, Liberty was anything but the favorite.
Liberty started the tournament by destroying the host school Coastal Carolina 78-61 in the first round. The Flames then caught a bit of a break in the quarterfinals when they matched up with the North's number one seed, High Point. The Panthers were without their best player and conference Freshman of the Year John Brown. Brown's absence helped the Flames escape with a one point victory.
In the semifinals, John Caleb Sanders started to catch fire with 19 points in an upset of the league's hottest team and the South's number two seed Gardner-Webb. The victory set up a Saturday championship match up with Charleston Southern.
The Buccaneers were a solid seven point favorite coming into Sunday's championship. Liberty was not phased though and were a team with confidence. It showed when the Flames hit a mid-range jumper at the buzzer to go up one at the half.
Liberty basically dominated the second half despite foul trouble and pulled away for the 87-76 win and their first conference championship since 2004. John Caleb Sanders finished the game with 27 points. Davon Marshall was named the tournament MVP after averaging 18 points throughout the four games.
The Flames are most certainly on their way to Dayton after finishing the season 15-20. With their depth, solid guard play, and big man rotation they may be able to challenge anyone at this point