NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Liberty coach Ritchie McKay doesn’t necessarily want to be undefeated, but he admits he likes some of the rewards it has brought his team so far this season.
“Being undefeated is great because you get a little bit of attention from it, but it wasn’t one of our goals as we set out this season,” McKay said after his team upset Vanderbilt (6-3) on the road Saturday night to improve to 12-0 on the season. It’s the best start in Liberty basketball history. “In an environment like this against some of the talent that Vandy has, that’s a really good win for our program.”
McKay also knows that this kind of a win can give his team a boost.
“I especially thought (with our play) in the second half you can put a deposit in the confidence bank after being able to come out with a victory here.”
Liberty held Vanderbilt to 23% shooting in the second half, allowing only 6 of 26 shots to fall.
Myo Baxter-Bell came off the bench for the Flames to score a team-leading 18 points.
“It was a long night,” Baxter-Bell said. “Shots weren’t falling, but that’s what we play defense for and that’s how we stayed in it.”
Caleb Homesley scored 14 and Elijah Cuffee added 13 for Liberty.
Aaron Nesmith threw in a game-high 19 points for Vanderbilt. Saben Lee scored 16. Nesmith (22.8) and Lee (17.4) entered the game as the second-highest scoring duo in the nation.
Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse was disappointed his team couldn’t come away with a victory.
“This was a winnable game for us and it’s going to sting a little bit,” he said.
The second half was a back-and-forth affair with the teams swapping the lead seven times. Liberty took the lead for good at 51-50 with 3:07 left on a layup by Cuffee.
Vanderbilt went cold from the field down the stretch and did not hit a field goal for 6:15 until Lee made a layup with 7 seconds left and hit a 3 at the buzzer to end the game.
Vanderbilt finished the first half on an 11-0 run. Over the last 2:56, the Commodores got 3-pointers from Dylan Disu, Lee and Nesmith. Nesmith’s 3 broke a 27-all tie with 15 seconds left, then Scotty Pippen Jr. threw a perfect alley-oop pass from beyond the arc to Lee at the buzzer to give Vanderbilt a 32-27 lead at the break.
It was the first time the Flames have trailed at the half this year.
Liberty: Scottie James pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds for Liberty.
Vanderbilt: Lee was coming off a career-high 25 points in Vandy’s last game, a 90-76 win over Buffalo on Dec. 3. The point tally earned him the Southeastern Conference player of the week award.
Liberty: The Flames were a perfect 12-for-12 from the free throw line.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores held Liberty to 42% from the field (22 of 53) but only managed to shoot 35% themselves (18-for-51).
Liberty faces Towson in the DC Hoops Tournament on Friday.
Vanderbilt plays Loyola-Chicago on Wednesday in Phoenix at the Basketball Hall of Fame Showcase.