Game #9-554: Liberty Flames vs. Gardner-Webb BulldogsMarch 9, 2013 2:00 pm
Myrtle Beach, SC
I really do not like talking about controversial subjects. But with Liberty University making a deep run in this year's Big South Tournament, it is hard to try and avoid controversy. And that is because Liberty University is a school all about controversy. Liberty University was founded as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971 by famous televangelist Jerry Falwell. While Falwell was more well known for his televangelist efforts through the Moral Majority and Thomas Road Baptist Church, Falwell always took great pride during his life about LU, which became Division I less than 20 years after its founding and the NCAA Tournament shortly after that. Falwell was known for being an ambitious person in spreading his evangelical message, and was a big supporter of the Flames. His controversial nature and passion for Big South basketball was the reason why Kyle found him a good interview subject during his ESPN days. And now five years since his death, the school now led by his son Jerry Falwell Jr. was two wins away from making their first NCAA Tournament in nine years.In that ESPN article back in 2006
, Kyle lists multiple quotes by Jerry Falwell that have made him a controversial figure. And you can easily Google more outrageous quotes by Falwell, such as tying secularists to the terrorist attacks of September 11. Falwell was a passionate figure, whether in building Liberty University up in to superpower status in a short period or in intertwining religion and politics that made him a lot of enemies. Kyle did a good job in his article of showing the human side of Reverend Falwell, as a guy who loved basketball just like the rest of us. And ideally I would like to separate the controversies from the basketball team when viewing Liberty, and view the Flames as just another basketball team. But Falwell knows the impact college sports have, and that is why late in life he was passionate about building up the athletic program's reputation. As Falwell said to Kyle towards the end of that ESPN article, "We believe that sports and music are the two platforms that can reach youth -- any kid, anywhere in the world. They may not know Billy Graham, but they know Michael Jordan. We use basketball to attract kids who otherwise would not come, and we ask God to give them the message of the gospels. That's how we look at it, not that the game is spiritual, it's what it does, it attracts kids. After 35 years, we're the largest Christian school in the world." To summarize, Falwell knew that the more successful the Flames are, the more students that they will draw. And the more students Liberty gets from that, the more Falwell's empire grows.
And that is why Liberty is: an empire. I have tried to like them with the rest of the conference, and that is why I try to put my grudges I had as a HPU student against Winthrop
aside as I pull for them in the style of "All Of Us, Each Of Us". But in the case of Liberty, it is hard to root for an empire. This is not about religion or politics here, as I pull for the three other Evangelical Christian schools of the Big South including Liberty's opponent this game in Gardner-Webb (Charleston Southern and Campbell are the other two). Those schools all are governed by the same conservative theology that Liberty is, and most likely have similar strict policies on their students similar to the "Liberty Way
". But they are not seeking to create an empire on behalf of their faith, they are just regular colleges that incorporate biblical principles into their teachings. But Falwell had explicitly stated that his goal was to make Liberty the equivalent for Evangelical Christians what Notre Dame is to Catholics and what BYU is to Mormons (Falwell's goal for the LU football team was to someday play Notre Dame). And I do not care much for those schools either. One thing that makes college sports more interesting than professional sports is that they represent colleges and universities rather than cities and states. And those schools all have different goals in education and values, which connects college sports to our culture better than professional sports do. But at the same time, I like sports being a way to unite people. I want Evangelical Christians, Mormons, Catholics, mainline Protestants, and non-Christians all coming together and not just playing each other but playing with each other. There are some European soccer clubs that have a history of sectarianism and following political ideologies, and has caused heated battles between historically Catholic Celtic and historically Protestant Rangers in Scotland. Sports are more fun when they are not as divisive as religion and politics are, and why I would like to be able to pull for Liberty as well as the rest of the conference.
So here the Flames were, going up as "underdogs" against a red hot Gardner-Webb team. But in terms of resources, Liberty had the huge edge. Just as it was for High Point two days earlier, it would not be a fair fight for Gardner-Webb. Liberty spends three times as much on sports than Gardner-Webb and twice as much on athletics. So to me, their record in conference play was not important. Gardner-Webb was the true underdog here. And the game would be close early, with Liberty leading most of the way. Gardner-Webb's Tyler Strange was getting good shots against the Flames, which was very important to do against a bigger opponent. But Liberty's backcourt responded very well, with John Caleb Sanders using his bigger teammates as screens to help him drive to the basket. After a good start to the first half, Liberty only led by two at halftime. Given how Charleston Southern started in the last game
, there was no reason Gardner-Webb could not take the game with a solid run.
But that would not happen here. Liberty built their lead back up to eight points, and Gardner-Webb looked sluggish on offense while the Flames got the big shots when needed. Gardner-Webb had the speed behind Tashan Newsome to push the tempo against the big Flames, but the athleticism advantage for GWU never showed as the Bulldogs were not Runnin'. And while GWU pulled even again late, Liberty was able to make their free throws while the Runnin' Bulldogs could not make the superhoop when needed as Liberty had been able to do earlier. The result was a 65-62 win for Liberty, and the empire moved on.
Liberty fans before the tournament were unhappy with their coach Dale Layer, who they felt was not able to take advantages of the school's enormous wealth. But Layer's Flames had risen up, and showed why I thought they were a threat at the beginning of the season. The empire was alive and well. I wish the LU well in the future, as Falwell Jr. has done an outstanding job at coming closer to the dream his dad had for his university. Liberty is actively seeking FBS football, but many conferences do not wish to touch what might be Hoops Nation's most controversial school. It must be noted that Liberty would likely have never been successful without the controversies, as Falwell's ambition has attracted many supporters for the same reason it drew him enemies. Liberty is one of the largest private schools in the country (both sides of the Red Line) with 12,000 students in Lynchburg and 60,000 more taking online courses which if you count them might make LU the largest of the private non-profit schools. And I hope someday a conference can take a chance on them and that they eventually end up on the other side of the Red Line. Ultimately, that destination works better for an empire than the small poor folks of the Big South.
LIBERTY 65, GARDNER-WEBB 62
LIBERTY 14-20 (6-10) -- T. Speaks 3-14 4-4 10; D. Marshall 2-4 2-2 8; J. Sanders 6-11 5-7 19; T. Gielo 3-7 2-3 9; J. Coronado 0-0 0-0 0; A. Smith 3-4 0-0 6; J. Vander Pol 4-6 3-4 11; C. Roberts 1-1 0-0 2; L. Taylor 0-0 0-0 0; S. Ogukwe 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-47 16-20 65.
GARDNER-WEBB 21-12 (11-5) -- T. Strange 4-12 0-0 12; T. Newsome 5-10 5-7 15; K. Hartley 3-7 1-2 10; J. Hill 2-5 2-3 6; M. Landis 4-11 4-4 15; D. Harper 2-4 0-0 4; M. Byron 0-0 0-0 0; O. Branch 0-0 0-0 0; J. Davis 0-2 0-0 0; I. Ivey 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-51 12-16 62.
Three-point goals: LIB 5-8 (J. Caleb Sanders 2-4; T. Gielo 1-1; D. Marshall 2-3), GWB 10-26 (T. Newsome 0-1; T. Strange 4-10; M. Landis 3-8; K. Hartley 3-7); Rebounds: LIB 29 (J. Coronado 8), GWB 26 (J. Hill 9); Assists: LIB 7 (D. Marshall 6), GWB 7 (T. Newsome 4); Total Fouls -- LIB 14, GWB 17; Fouled Out: LIB-None; GWB-K. Hartley.
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