Local graduate driving one of last undefeated teams in D-I college basketball

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 22: Myo Baxter-Bell of the Liberty Flames drives with the ball against Abdul Ado #24 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs during their game in the First Round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament at SAP Center on March 22, 2019 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)

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SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 22: Myo Baxter-Bell of the Liberty Flames drives with the ball against Abdul Ado #24 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs during their game in the First Round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament at SAP Center on March 22, 2019 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)

Liberty Flames take 11-0 mark into Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt

Years after a high school career that started at Lakota East and finished in the state final four at Chaminade Julienne, Myo Baxter-Bell has positioned himself for a similar strong finish to his college career.

Baxter-Bell, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound redshirt senior at Liberty University, is averaging 8.5 points and 4.3 rebounds for one of the last five unbeaten teams in Division I. Liberty (11-0) beat Grand Canyon University 70-61 on Sunday at the Jerry Colangelo Classic in Phoenix in a game that followed the Dayton Flyers’ 78-68 victory against Saint Mary’s.

Baxter-Bell was named MVP of the game. He scored 15 points, his highest total since his sophomore year, and grabbed five rebounds. After the game, Baxter-Bell was asked to compare the player he is now to the player who arrived at Liberty in Lynchburg, Va., in 2015.

“I’m mentally smarter,” Baxter-Bell said. “There’s a lot of games I have when I miss a few easy buckets, and I shut down. This game, I was able to to keep going even though I missed a few early on.”

» LOOKING BACK: Staley praises versatility of Baxter-Bell

Baxter-Bell scored Liberty’s last five points of the first half to extend a 27-26 lead to 32-28. Then he had 10 points in a six-minute span in the second half, helping break open a 46-46 game and giving the Flames a 61-49 lead with 4:43 to play.

“Myo’s such a difficult matchup on the offensive end,” Liberty coach Ritchie McKay said. “He’s so physically strong.”

Baxter-Bell, who played his first two seasons at Lakota East before transferring to CJ, committed to Liberty in April 2015, choosing the Flames over another Virginia school: Radford. He redshirted as a freshman in the 2015-16 season. That was the plan when he committed.

Liberty was 8-24 the season before Baxter-Bell arrived and has improved its win total every season since. It was 13-19 the season he sat out, 21-14 in 2016-17 when he started 28 games and averaged 7.9 points, 22-15 the next season and 29-7 last season.

The Flames returned to the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 2013. They upset No. 5 seed Mississippi State for their first NCAA tournament victory. Baxter-Bell scored 13 points.

Big things were expected at Liberty this season. It returned four starters and was picked to win the Atlantic Sun Conference championship. Now it is off to the best start in school history. No Liberty team had ever started better than 6-0 before this season.

“It’s about having fun and building memories,” Baxter-Bell said. “We want to do something that’s bigger than ourselves. That’s what we pride ourselves on.”

Baxter-Bell has scored 752 points in his career and ranks 41st in school history. He’s tied for 44th in rebounds with 331.

Asked to sum up his career to this point, Baxter-Bell said, “It’s been a long way. It’s been quick looking back on it, but I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve really enjoyed the place I picked to play. I’m really excited.”

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