What a difference a month can make.
After a loss at Florida Gulf Coast on Feb. 2, Lipscomb head coach Scott Sanderson charged his players to play to win instead of waiting on the other team to lose.
The Bisons had lost seven of their last nine games by an average of 3.6 points.
Since the charge Sanderson’s Bisons have won eight straight by an average of 16 points, increased their RPI by 84 spots, and climbed from ninth to fourth in the Atlantic Sun conference standings entering this week’s tournament in Allen Arena.
Lipscomb faces No. 5 seed Campbell Thursday evening at 8:30 p.m. The game will be televised on CSS.
The winning streak is the sixth longest in the nation and Lipscomb’s longest against NCAA opponents. It has been nothing other than a total team effort.
“We have shot the ball better, we have defended better, and we are turning the ball over less,” Sanderson said.
Sanderson singled out guard Michael Lusk for his senior leadership. He has increased his scoring output from 7.6 points to 11.6 points per game and is shooting over 60 percent from downtown during the stretch. Lusk barely missed Lipscomb’s first NCAA-era triple-double on Senior Day Saturday against North Florida finishing with 21 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists.
“It has been a combination of a lot of guys that have stepped their play up, but if I had to pick one guy who made the most significant strides from back then to now it would be Mike Lusk,” Sanderson said. “He is shooting it very well. He’s confident. He’s guarding. He’s playing hard. He’s just been a very solid player for us on both ends of the floor.”
In early January Sanderson began counting down the days in practice until the regular season ended and emphasized to his team that they need to be sure to accomplish what they wanted to accomplish before the days ran out.
“Sometimes Mike is comfortable in a reserve role and we didn’t need him in a reserve role,” Sanderson said. “He has really elevated his play and I think he feels a sense of urgency. He’s stepped out into more of a leadership role and he’s become more comfortable on the floor.”
Entering the tournament as the hottest team in the league, the Bisons could easily have a target painted on their back especially since Campbell is the second hottest team in the league with wins over No. 1 seed Jacksonville and No. 2 seed ETSU during its current four game win streak.
“When we throw it up on Thursday night, it is nice to have the confidence from the win streak, but you still have to play Thursday night to get to Friday,” Sanderson said. “You have to take it one game at a time.”
Campbell has seen a significant boost over its latest win streak from Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year Lorne Merthie.
“He has gone from averaging nine points a game to 17 points a game,” Sanderson said. “He’s a good player. He’s quick; he’s athletic and he can shoot the three. He has really improved.”
Campbell and Lipscomb split during the regular season with each team winning on the road.
Campbell defeated the Bisons 69-68 on a buzzer beater in Allen Arena on Jan. 8 while Lipscomb started its current win streak on Feb. 9 with an 83-67 win over the Fighting Camels.
Sophomore guard Josh Slater and redshirt freshman Brian Wright have played especially well against Campbell this season.
Slater averaged 10 points, five rebounds, four assists, and three steals over the two games while Wright averaged 16 points and 4.5 rebounds. Wright had a career-high 23 at Campbell.
During practice this week Sanderson has been telling his players to “sustain what we have built over the last month and get better.”
With the season moving into the postseason where every game is win or go home, the Bisons have no choice but to keep their streak alive.
Article by Trevor Garrett of the Lipscomb Athletic Office of Media Relations.