In the 1970s Jerry Falwell founded Lynchburg Baptist College and then worked to increase the political participation of fundamentalist Christians who had viewed politics as something to avoid. Now Liberty University will be known to a lot of people, as the Flames shocked the world by winning the Big South tournament to go to the NCAA tournament by not losing faith despite 20 losses.
“It’s not always how you start, but how you finish,” Tyler Woody told Breitbart Sports Sunday. Woody is a Liberty student who announces athletic events for the radio station. “The students here are going crazy about our journey to the tourney. No matter what anyone else said, we knew at the beginning of the year it would be a special year and it most certainly was.”
I attended a service last month at Thomas Road Baptist Church, the megachurch that has grown around what is now the much larger Liberty University, and where Jerry Falwell’s son Jonathan delivered the sermon.
Before Falwell added athletics to the vision at Liberty, he was credited by many for the work he did at Thomas Road Baptist Church for the election of Ronald Reagan, and he eventually saw athletics as another way to grow the university and reach more people. The athletes took the mission of the school seriously. When I covered the University of Virginia baseball team for the Charlottesville Daily Progress, players told me middle infielders would ask if they had accepted Jesus as their Savior if they happened to be on base during a pitching change for Liberty.
The school has fielded competitive teams in a number of sports as it has grown, but no one outside of Lynchburg saw this tournament bid coming.
Winless in November and undefeated in March, Liberty did not lose faith and made a 180 degree shift with a late season run and is headed to NCAA Tournament. Liberty started 0-8 but for its fans, all is forgiven, as they say it’s not how you start but how you finish.
Playing in Myrtle Beach, SC, John Caleb Sanders scored a team-high 27 points and tournament MVP Devon Marshall contributed 20 as Liberty (15-20) defeated Charleston Southern (19-12) in the Big South Conference final. Liberty closed the half with a one-point lead and the game remained close to start the second until Liberty started to pull away at the 12:00 mark. Only 9 out of 28 from behind the arc, Charleston Southern struggled with a cold hand and was unable to offset Liberty’s consistent play. Sophomore guard Saah Nimley led the Buccaneers with 18 points.
The Flames defeated both #1 seeds from both of the conferences divisions (Charleston Southern and High Point) and the #2 (Coastal Carolina) to cap off its impressive tournament run.
Liberty will be making its third NCAA Tournament appearance and will be only the second team in tournament history with at least 20 losses to make the “Big Dance.”
On the political side, Ronald Reagan’s election win and visit to Liberty University led to many others coming. According to Wikipedia, speakers have included Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), President George H. W. Bush, Senator Ted Kennedy, Rev. Billy Graham, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Lt. Col. Oliver North, Steve Forbes, Leonard Davidson, former US Senator Jesse Helms, Sam Donaldson, John R. Rice, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, CEO William S. Simon, Elisabeth Elliot (wife of the late missionary Jim Elliot), Skip Erickson, Freddie Gage, Adrian Rogers, governor Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sean Hannity, Gianna Jessen, Clint Hubbard, Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, pastors Mel White, Mark Driscoll, Josh Mcdowell, Miles McPherson, Rick Warren, Steven Furtick and Francis Chan, and entertainers/athletes such as pro-wrestler Lex Luger, Bobby Bowden, Lou Holtz, Carrie Prejean, Allan Houston, Candace Cameron Bure, and Douglas Gresham.