March 1, 2007
Once upon a time there were three college basketball players, each possessing the shooting skills to take over a basketball game on their own.
For the first part of the season one of them was terrific. For the middle part of the season another was outstanding. And in the final third of the season the third one stepped up.
Their coach kept on saying that if all three could shoot to their capabilities in a game that the team would be close to unbeatable.
Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament the No. 4-seeded Lipscomb Bisons had more than their three shooting stars zoned in. In their 85-49 romp over No. 5-seeded Mercer at the Memorial Center in Johnson City everything was as close to perfect as it could be.
It was the biggest margin of victory for the Bisons since they beat the University of the South 100-59 on Dec. 18, 2003. The Bisons 47-26 halftime lead was the biggest first half advantage of the season.
There are still two games left to be played to see if the Bisons have a fairy tale ending to this season. Tonight at 6 CT they face ETSU, the tournament host and the regular season conference champion in the semifinals. The winner of that game plays Saturday for the A-Sun Tournament Championship and the conference's automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament.
"That is the best we have played this year on both ends of the floor," Sanderson said. "We were very good defensively. We made our shots. When we put it together on both ends of the floor we are pretty good basketball team. We were ready to play. We were zoned in. Everyone saw that in this game."
Ard also grabbed a game-high seven rebounds.
"Trey was terrific at the start of the season," Sanderson said. "Eddie was great in the middle. Brian has finished strong. This is the first time this season all three of them have played this well in a game. When they play like this and do what they are supposed to do, I'm not guaranteeing you we are going to win, but I do like our chances."
The Bisons shot a sizzling 58.1 percent from the field in the first half hitting 18-of-31 shots, a season-high. For the game they were just as red hot finishing at 57.9 percent (33-of-57), also a season-high.
Twelve Bisons scored in the game, a season-high. The Bisons scoring advantage allowed Sanderson to sit his main players for much of the last 10 minutes of the second half allowing many reserves to set season highs in minutes played.
"The best thing about the game was I got to play everybody and our starting players got a lot of rest," Sanderson said. "It was a great team win. We have to put the team before ourselves individually.
"At the five-minute mark I told our guys on the court that they deserved to play because they work so hard in practice getting the other guys ready to play. I told them that not only did they need to play, but they needed to play well. I thought they did play well. They moved the basketball and covered up defensively. They did what they were supposed to do on both ends of the floor. I applaud the way they played."
The Bisons have little time to recover before their next game, but Sanderson isn't overly concerned.
These guys are young," Sanderson said. "We have a lot of guys with a lot of energy. We played good, but that one is over. We have to move forward."
From 3-point range the Bisons were 8-of-16. They also hit 11-of-13 free throw attempts, an 84.6 percent success rate.
Mercer placed only one player in double figures. Forward Shaddean Aaron finished with 12. Mercer was 41 percent from the field, hitting 16-of-39 shots, including 6-of-14 from beyond the arc. Mercer also connected on 11-of-20 free throw attempts, 55 percent.
James Florence, the leading scorer in the A-Sun, was held to only six points.
"Brian did a terrific job guarding him," Sanderson said.
ETSU has beaten the Bisons twice during the regular season. ETSU, the No. 1 seed, advanced to the semifinals with a 77-61 win over No. 8-seeded Stetson.
"We are going to have to go back and watch film and evaluate ETSU," Sanderson said. "They were the best team in the league during the regular season. We have to find a way to stop Courtney Pigram. He scored 31 points against Stetson."
Preparations actually began for tournament week back in August when the Bisons played a series of exhibition games during Labor Day weekend in the Toronto, Canada area.
"This is the week in this league," Sanderson said. "We started getting ready in August. We practiced hard Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. This tournament starts for us long before the first game."