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Two teams whose first day in Honolulu was anything but a vacation seek a spot in the Diamond Head Classic championship game when Liberty and Stanford duel in the tournament semifinals on Thursday.

The Flames (8-4) surprised Northern Iowa 76-74 before Stanford (7-4) held on to beat Wyoming 66-63 in the event’s early first-round games Wednesday. BYU, South Florida, Vanderbilt and Hawaii are on the other side of the eight-team bracket.

After losing three straight to fall to 1-3 to start the season, Liberty has run off seven victories in eight games. Rivaled only by a 66-45 shellacking of Missouri was Wednesday’s impressive win over Northern Iowa, which earlier had gone on the road and beaten then-No. 16 St. Bonaventure.

The Flames have never faced Stanford. In fact, they’ve only previously gone head-to-head with Pacific-12 Conference opponents three times, shocking UCLA in 2018 and losing to Arizona and Colorado.

Darius McGhee was the hero of Wednesday’s win, scoring a game-high 22 points, including Liberty’s last field goal with 1:59 remaining.

Flames coach Ritchie McKay walked off the court feeling as if his club had earned more than just a first-round tournament victory.

“Really good win for our program,” he said. “Northern Iowa is a program I have followed for years, and I have a great deal of admiration for. They have one of the best players in the country in AJ Green, so I was proud of our defensive efforts against him and the rest of their group. I think that was what was able to propel us to victory.”

Green finished with 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting.

Stanford sweated out a pair of potential game-tying 3-point attempts by Wyoming in the final four seconds to earn a shot at the Flames. Jaiden Delaire paced the Cardinal with 17 points, including two free throws with 45 seconds left after the Cowboys had rallied within one.

“I appreciate my teammates delivering me the ball in good situations,” Delaire noted recently, “making that a lot easier for me to do what I had to do — score, and be a playmaker on the offensive end.”

Delaire did more than just those two things in the win over Wyoming. He also shared Stanford’s rebound lead with Harrison Ingram, each pulling down seven.

–Field Level Media