It was the first Atlantic Sun Tournament game for the Lipscomb Bisons, but Coach Scott Sanderson sees Thursday night's 68-64 first round loss to Jacksonville as a beginning rather than an ending.
The Bisons qualified for the tournament in their first year of eligibility, defying preseason predictions from A-Sun coaches and the press that the Bisons would finish at the bottom of the conference. In the gut-wrenching aftermath of the loss, Sanderson was able to reel off several positives about the men's basketball program.
"To me, it is easy to find positives," Sanderson said. "From the beginning of the season people pretty much thought that we were on the outside looking in. That was our rallying cry with our kids."
The Bisons only lose two players next season _ seniors Matt Jarboe and Corey King.
"As I told them after the game there is no question with the amount of guys that we have coming back that we have turned the corner," Sanderson said. "We're excited with the direction where our program is going. It is easy for me to find a lot of positives in what we have done and what we are going to do."
Sanderson praised the character of the team late in the season.
`We got some big wins late in the season, and got some momentum," Sanderson said. "More than anything I think we learned how to win close games. We had Eddie Ard step up for us late in the season. In the last several games James Poindexter played big for us on both ends. People thought early on that we were one-dimensional team going through Brian Fisk."
A large contingency of Lipscomb fans and students made the short trip down the boulevard to BelmontUniversity 's Curb Center for the first night of the tournament. Sanderson was pleased with the turnout.
"I thought the crowd helped us," Sanderson said. "Our students and our administration have always been very supportive. We had a huge following."
The Bisons won their last four games of the season at home to qualify for the tournament as the No. 5 seed. Jacksonville was the No. 4 seed. Sanderson admitted his players had more than their share of jitters in the first half.
"It was the first tournament game for all of us in Division I," Sanderson. "I thought we did have jitters. I thought we were kind of wide-eyed. We didn't play with any energy defensively. Then in the second half in the first eight or nine minutes we defended like we have defended all year long. James Poindexter stepped up and hit some shots for us, but you have to do that for 40 minutes."
For Sanderson the game was truly a tale of two teams.
"How we played in the first half was not how we got in the tournament," Sanderson said. "The way we played in the second half was how we got in."
The Bisons fought back from a 13-point first half deficit at2:09 to trim Jacksonville's advantage to 34-26.
"You can't get yourself in a hole and get down 13 points," Sanderson said. "But to our guys credit we battled back."
In the second half the Bisons bounced back strong, taking a 35-34 lead on back-to-back free throws by Poindexter with17:52 left to play. The lead shifted back-and-forth throughout the second half with Jacksonville taking control of the game with 17 seconds left on a jump shot by Jesse Kimbrough.
"I thought we defended a lot better in the second half," Sanderson said. "We attacked the basket, and played well offensively. But you can't play only 20 minutes and expect to win a basketball game."
However, it was a 3-point shot by Haminn Quaintance with1:34 remaining that gave Jacksonville a 64-62 lead.
"That was a huge shot that Q hit," Sanderson said. "I will lay in bed thinking of him shooting shots like that. The shot clock is running down, and he steps back and shoots the three."
Poindexter finished with a game-high 24 points, 17 of them in the second half. He finished the season with an average of 20.3 ppg in his last three games. He hit 13-of-22 shot, a 59.1 percentage from 3-point range.
Ard scored 15 points, his sixth double-figures scoring effort in his last seven games. He averaged 13.6 ppg during that stretch.
Ard, Cameron Robinson and Fisk each had seven rebounds for the Bisons, who held a 40-32 advantage on the boards.
The Bisons finished the season 16-12.