The Lipscomb University Bisons will face a tall challenge in both the literal and physical sense when they face North Carolina State in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday at 1 p.m.
The N.C. State Wolfpack, members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, are 6-1 on the year. Their sole loss was on the road to No. 22 Davidson 72-67.
But the Bisons (4-4, 1-1 A-Sun) will also have to face a starting frontcourt that checks in at 6-9, 6-9 and 6-6 while combining to average 42.5 points and 20.3 rebounds.
“The biggest challenge will be their overall size and strength,” said Lipscomb head coach Scott Sanderson.
Sophomore center Adnan Hodzic will anchor the Lipscomb post.
He has set career highs for rebounds in two of his last three games and is averaging 9.75 boards per game over the last four games to compliment his 15.3 points per game over the same period.
Lipscomb will face N.C. State after ten days off following a 70-47 win over SIU Edwardsville last Tuesday.
“Whenever you get that many days to practice you, use it to get away some and recharge your battery and your mind,” said Sanderson. “We have been working to develop our bench that hasn’t played as much because we want to give them some more opportunities and more individual coaching.”
While the additional December practice dates may have provided additional learning opportunities, not all have been merry for Sanderson’s squad. Freshman center Rob Murphy was injured this week and senior forward Thomas Pfaff was already sitting out after suffering an injury in practice early in the month.
Sophomore forward Brandon Brown, who began the year playing small forward, will have to fill the void not only at the power forward position, but also at center when Hodzic is not on the court.
Sanderson also plans on calling on redshirt freshman Brian Wright and true freshman Jordan Burgason to play significant roles.
“We need Brian and Jordan to both play a bigger piece for us,” said Sanderson. “We need those two guys to step up. They are both excellent shooters that just haven’t shot the ball very well.”
Wright and Burgason are shooting a combined 25 percent (11-of-44) from the three-point line.
“It is just a matter of growing when the lights are on and the popcorn is popping as opposed to three o’clock in the afternoon when we are in the gym with no one else in there,” said Sanderson.
Both players have shown streaks of their true ability this year. Wright scored 21 on 8-of-12 shooting in the season opener against Oakland City while Burgason scored 17 on four-of-seven shooting at North Florida on Dec. 4.
Sanderson considers last Tuesday’s victory over SIU Edwardsville the best game of the year for the Bisons.
“Defensively we were terrific,” said Sanderson. “We rebounded the ball, only had nine turnovers and we shot the ball a little bit better in the second half.”
Lipscomb held SIU Edwardsville to 29.3 percent shooting and forced 15 turnovers.
After leading the Atlantic Sun Conference in field goal defense for two of the last two years, the Bisons had struggled on the defensive end allowing opponents to shot 44.3 percent for seventh in the A-Sun.
Sanderson had been preaching defensive urgency to his team all season and the victory was the first game that the Bisons delivered.
But Sanderson is definitely not ready to check the completed box next to defensive urgency.
His top request from the squad this weekend is to play with “a sense of defensive urgency.”
“We have to maintain our sense of defensive urgency like we did last week,” Sanderson said. “It is definitely going to be different against N.C. State. And we have to have the sense of urgency of how we play every possession offensively to not let our offense affect our defense.”
The Bisons also debuted a five-sophomore starting lineup last week starting Hodzic, Brown, Michael Teller, Josh Slater, and Jimmy Oden. Teller and Oden got the nod over Pfaff and Michael Lusk.
While Pfaff sat out due to injury, the coaching staff was seeking a spark off the bench when they decided to bring Lusk off the bench.
Lusk delivered and finished with 14 points and 4 assists after only scoring ten points over the previous four games.
Oden also performed well in his first start of the season and second of his career finishing with nine points, five rebounds, and four assists.
The decision to go with a younger lineup, while partially out of necessity, is similar to Lipscomb’s 2005-06 season when Lusk found himself on the receiving end of the move to the starting lineup.
After starting the season 6-6, 2-2 in the Atlantic Sun, Sanderson made the decision to move bring senior Cameron Robinson off the bench while starting Lusk.
The Bisons responded with a seven-game winning streak and closed the regular season winning 12 of 15.
“When will we pick up the fruit off the ground from that change?” asked Sanderson. “I don’t know. When you are fixing to face N.C. State and Indiana, you can make a lot of changes and may not see the reward. I really believe that when we get into conference play that we will see the rewards of changes.”
As Sanderson and his coaching staff are placing their finishing touches on their game strategy for Saturday, there is extra excitement as Lipscomb plays their first Atlantic Coast team.
“The most important thing is cutting down on our mistakes and becoming better as a team so when we do get in the league play and have cut down on our mistakes, the wins will take care of themselves,” said Sanderson. “In my mind we have three games to prep for league games.”
After Saturday’s game Lipscomb will travel an hour west to Elon, N.C. to begin preparations for Monday’s game against Elon at 6 p.m.
A member of the Southern Conference, Elon is 2-4 on the year.
“Elon is very comparable to teams in our league,” said Sanderson.
Elon is led by Brett James and Ola Atoyebi who are each averaging 14.2 points a game.
Jonathan Seamon and Benjamin Seamon, along with special guest commentator Justin Seamon, will be on the call for the Lipscomb Sports Network. Free online audio streaming of both games is available at www.LipscombSports.com/sportsnetwork/.
Story by Trevor Garrett of the Lipscomb Athletics Media Relations Department