March 3, 2006
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. _ Three wins in three days. Three wins and get your ticket punched for the "Big Dance". Three wins to really let everyone know what playing NCAA Division I basketball is all about.
The No.1-seeded Lipscomb Bisons basketball team opened the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament faced with that challenge. Friday night they defeated the No. 4-seeded Gardner-Webb Bulldogs 70-51 in the semifinals at Memorial Center to move into Saturday's championship game at 1 p.m. CST. The Bisons will play Belmont. The winner advances to the NCAA Tournament.
The game will be televised on ESPN2. It is the first time the Bisons have appeared on ESPN2 this season and the eighth time they have been on television this season.
"This game is important for me for our guys because of the focus they have had," said Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson. "To have 18, 19 and 20 year olds keep focus from September when we were trying to lay the foundation and telling them what it would mean to our university isn't easy.
"In making this transition for the past seven years there has been a lot of hard work. My assistant coaches have done a great job of preparation. As bad as I wanted to win this game and as bad as I want to win Saturday I can live with what happens. I know the energy and the effort has gone into preparation and effort everyday."
In tournament games often unexpected players step forward to have their best games of the season. Such has been the case for the Bisons who used a season-high 13 points from point guard Trey Williams and 11 points from sophomore guard LaKory Daniels to spark the offense, especially in the first half. The Bisons also got 13 points from Brian Fisk, who tied William s for the team scoring lead. Sophomore forward Eddie Ard added 10 points with eight of them coming in the second half.
"Every single time we had played Gardner-Webb they wouldn't guard me," said Williams. "They would wait in the gaps on Eddie or Brian or James Poindexter to make the big play. As soon as they took their eyes off of me I started breaking to the basket."
Ard and senior center Shaun Durant tied for the rebound lead with eight apiece.
The play from reserves like Daniels, forward Cameron Robinson and guard Michael Lusk have been crucial to the success of the Bisons especially when facing the grind of three games in three days under tournament pressure.
"We're playing about nine guys now," said. "I told them not to rest on the floor, but rest them on the side. We rushed them in and out to keep our players fresh. We wanted to force the action. We thought we had a deeper bench than they did. I thought we got some cheap baskets in transition."
For the Bisons the victory was a chance to avenge a 71-66 loss at Gardner-Webb, a team they led by 22 points with less than 18 minutes left in the game.
Defense has been the key for the Bisons all season. Gardner-Webb's 51 points tied their season low set Jan. 15 against Florida Atlantic in a 72-51 loss. The Bisons held Gardner-Webb to 58 points in a 70-58 win at Allen Arena Jan 2.
For the game the Bisons shot 42.6 percent from the field. Gardner-Webb shot 32.2 percent.
"We were trying to turn up the heat defensively and try to make them work to catch the ball," said Sanderson. "We weren't going to win that game in the first half. They had come back and beat us after we led by 20 at the half a couple of weeks ago. We had to keep running and keep pushing. After awhile their shots were hitting the front of the rim.
"I was proud of our defensive effort. When you hold a team to 32 percent from the floor you are going to win some games."
Also important for the Bisons was their ability to take care of the ball. They made only seven turnovers compared to 14 by Gardner-Webb.
"We had nine against Mercer in the first round which gives us 16 in two tournament games," said Sanderson. "Sometimes when you are subbing a lot you don't get as a good a rhythm offensively, but to our guys' credit that is the best we have played offensively as far as being unselfish, moving the basketball and making the extra pass. That is what I am excited about."
The Bisons took a 4-2 lead on a 3-pointer by Daniels at 16:07 and led the rest of the game. Even though Ard did not make a field goal in the first half and Fisk and Ard had only seven points between them, the Bisons still managed to lead 35-24 at intermission.
In the second half the Bisons continued to control the game offensively and defensively. Gardner-Webb trimmed the Bisons lead to single digits one time, pulling to within nine points at 50-41 on a lay-up by Simon Conn.
The Bisons twice led by 19 points in the second half, including the final margin of victory.
"Every game is a like a championship game for us so Saturday will be no different than any other game for us," said Fisk. "Defending and rebounding are the two keys he puts on the board. If we come out and defend and rebound we should be in good shape."
The Bisons are 21-9 on the season, They opened the tournament with a 78-62 win over Mercer Thursday in the quarterfinals.