Nov. 14, 2005
LEXINGTON, Ky. _ There was national notoriety and a potential brush with greatness waiting for the Lipscomb Bisons basketball team.
But in the end the multiple scoreboards at Rupp Arena read Kentucky 67, Lipscomb 49 Monday night in the regional title game of the Guardians Classic. But the story goes much deeper than the final score.
For Lipscomb fans, and maybe even some Kentucky fans as well, this game will be remembered for Lipscomb forward Eddie Ard coming off the bench to score a game-high 22 points, center Shaun Durant pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds despite giving up precious inches inside and for a Bisons team that refused to go away until the bitter end.
For 35 minutes the Bisons gave the top 10-ranked Wildcats of the Southeastern Conference a battle, keeping most of the 19,369 fans in their seats until the final three minutes.
"It was a real battle out there," said Kentucky Coach Orlando "Tubby" Smith. "I knew Scott Sanderson would have his team ready to play. Obviously, growing up in a household around Coach Wimp Sanderson, he learned a lot.
"His teams play extremely hard. I was very impressed with their athleticism. They ran the floor extremely well."
The blue mist of Rupp Arena did not intimidate the Bisons. Lipscomb guard Brian Fisk set the tempo early with a layup at `19:16, the first field goal of the game. The Bisons last lead was 9-7 with 15:43 left in the half. Back-to-back lay-ups by Kentucky guard Rajon Rondo gave the Wildcats a 11-9 edge.
"We came out here thinking we could win," said Lipscomb Coach Scott Sanderson. "I told our players to play as smart as they could and we would have a chance to win. I thought for 35 minutes we battled, but we ended up having a hard time with turnovers."
A lay-up by Durant tied the score at 11-11 with 13 minutes left in the half. Back-to-back free throws by Ravi Moss put the Wildcats up 13-11 and they never gave up the lead.
The Bisons, however, refused to go away easily against the first top 10- nationally-ranked NCAA team they have ever played and in front of the biggest crowd they have ever faced.
Kentucky would lead by 11 twice in the final six minutes of the first half, but at intermission the Bisons trailed by only eight at 30-22.
The Bisons, sparked by the scoring of Ard, continued to chip away at the Wildcats. With 14:23 left in the game the Bisons trailed 36-34 thanks to a jump shot by Ard. A lay-up by Rondo at 13:45 gave the Wildcats a 38-34 lead. But the Bisons came back on a lay-up by Durant to cut the lead to 38-36 with 12:51 left to play.
"When I looked at Eddie Ard, it looked like he was playing in his own backyard and nobody was guarding him," said Smith. "We were trying to keep him down, but he had 18 points in the second half. He just played extremely well."
Ard admitted he felt pressure playing in front of the Wildcats crowd, but he also admitted playing a team of this caliber brought out the best in him.
"At one point I felt like I could hit anything I shot," said Ard who was nine-of-12 from the field and three-of-four from the free throw line. "I'm a competitor. Our team has a lot of fierce competitors, even though we are a small school. Everyone on this team has the heart of a big time Division I school. Regardless of who we are playing against _ Duke or Kentucky _ we are going to come out and compete."
Competing is exactly what they did. The Bisons would keep the game close trailing 48-43 with 6:49 on the clock. But the Wildcats started pulling away in the final six minutes to ice the victory.
"Down the stretch they made some key 3-pointers and we struggled with some of their screens keeping Rondo in front of us," Sanderson said. "Kentucky did a good job of spacing us out and that hurt us.
"I'm not into moral victories, but I can't be more proud of my group of guys. They played their hearts out and gave me all they had."
Durant finished with a game-high 12 rebounds. The Bisons held a 34-30 rebounding advantage over Kentucky.
"Durant was a big, physical kid inside," Smith said.
Lipscomb guard James Poindexter was the only other Bisons player in double figures with 10.
Rondo led Kentucky with 19 points. Moss added 13 and Ramel Bradley chipped in 12.
"I know Lipscomb and their staff and team did a fantastic job in a very hostile arena here," said Smith. "They will win a lot of games this year."
The Bisons, 1-1, play another SEC opponent Sunday afternoon when they travel to Auburn for a 2 p.m. game.
Sanderson put the Kentucky game in perspective as it affects the rest of the season for the Bisons, especially their play in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
"This game, with all the national exposure and notoriety, was great," said Sanderson. "We don't have to beat Kentucky to make the NCAA Tournament. We have to beat the teams in the Atlantic Sun Conference that are more comparable to us.
"I don't think there is a better environment in college basketball than playing in Rupp Arena, and I think our guys played very well for most of the game. This experience is going to be good for us."