March 1, 2006
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. _ Presssure? What pressure?
In only their second year of eligibility the Lipscomb Bisons are back in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament for the second time. But this time they are the No. 1 seed in the tournament which starts Thursday at noon CST when the Bisons take on No. 8-seed Mercer at the Memorial Center on the East Tennessee State University campus.
The seed assigned to the teams means little to Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson, the A-Sun Coach of the Year for directing his team to a 15-5 conference record and a share of the regular season championship.
"In my opinion there is not any added pressure in being the top seed," said Sanderson. "You have to go over there and win three games like everybody else. Seeds are just seeds. In this league right here anyone can beat anybody on any given night in this league. I really do believe there are three or four teams that can win this tournament."
Sanderson warns that no one should be fooled by the seed assigned to Mercer. The Bisons beat Mercer twice this season, by identical 83-66 scores. But for a league, which had five teams within one game of the championship in the final week of the season, anything can happen.
"Mercer is a good basketball team," said Sanderson. "They are very capable. They've got size inside. They are a very good rebounding team. They are very, very strong and physical. Andrew Brown has been playing very, very well for them.
"The mindset of the players is very important. You have to make them understand that just because you have beaten a team two times in a row there is no guarantee you are going to beat them again. You still have to go out there and execute the game plan and do the things necessary for you to win. If we don't come in there ready to play we will be going home Thursday afternoon."
Sanderson has the uncanny ability to be able to read what his team is thinking and what their response is going to be to almost any situation. He has liked what he has seen from the Bisons as they closed out their pre-tournament preparations.
"I think our guys are ready," said Sanderson. "After winning the league championship they weren't whooping it, hollering and carrying on. We had two goals in mind. One of those was to win the league and the other was to win the tournament and go to the NCAA Tournament.
"We still have some work to do. We are not going to have to change something all of a sudden for the tournament. I'm proud of our guys. "
Sanderson has been asked a number of times if he thought the team would be in this situation so quickly after making the transition from NAIA to NCAA Division I. Sanderson answers with a resounding, "No."
"Most coaches, for whatever reason,would answer `yes' to that question," said Sanderson. "But that is not reality. It happened very quick for us. I knew we were going to be very good before the season started, but I didn't know how good."
He points to the quality of the players on this season's team. Junior guard Brian Fisk, a first-team selection for the All A-Sun Team, had a string of 22 straight games scoring in double figures. In the final game of the season he asked Sanderson to allow LaKory Daniels to play in his placc. Fisk only had six points in the game, ending his sreak, but still shattering the school record for consecutive double-figure games.
"We not only have good basketball players, but we have good solid people," said Sanderson. "They are not only good for this basketball team but for this university.
"Our guys have been everyday guys in practice and everyday guys off of the floor. So many times guys give want to give you what you want eight out of 10 days. Our guys, for the most part, have maintained their intensity, their effort and their focus both on and off of the floor."
And while most fans point to Fisk and sophomore forward Eddie Ard, also a first-team All A-Sun selection, as the backbones of the team, Sanderson just as easily points to senior guard James Poindexter and senior forward Cameron Robinson.
"You have to have good guys," said Sanderson. "I look at James and Cameron who pretty much started their whole careers and then in the middle of this season for about 10 games they started coming off of the bench. I'm a firm believer that we are where we are today because of James and Cameron.
"Sometimes accepting the role of coming off of the bench after you have been starting is very difficult for seniors to do. Not only did they do it, but they did it well. They put the team before themselves. It is all about our team."
The single elimination continues through Saturday. If the Bisons advance they would play the winner of the first round game between East Tennessee State and Gardner-Webb. The winner of the tournament gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.