By Russell Vannozzi
Lipscomb University’s basketball team used to be one of the best shows to watch in Nashville. Legendary coach Don Meyer built the Bisons into a perennial NAIA power, even leading the team to a national championship in 1986. John Pierce and Phillip Hutcheson (now the school’s athletic director) still stand the top two scorers in college basketball history.
Since joining the NCAA Division I ranks, Lipscomb has seen far less success on the court. The Bisons have yet to make an NCAA tournament appearance, although they did make the National Invitational Tournament in 2006. Lipscomb’s last winning season came in 2010-11, when it went 17-13 and lost in the first round of the ASUN tournament.
Casey Alexander and the 2016-17 Bisons are doing their best to turn things around. Lipscomb is currently 17-11 with three regular-season games remaining, and the Bisons have already clinched home court advantage for the first round of the ASUN tournament.
The turnaround has been sparked by a number of key players, including Nathan Moran, Garrison Mathews, Josh Williams and Rob Marberry. Mathews leads the team in scoring (19.8 points per game), and Williams is back after missing much of last season with an ACL injury. Thanks in large part to the addition of a dynamic post player like Marberry, the Bisons have branched out from being heavily reliant on three-point shots. Lipscomb ranks fifth in the NCAA in three-point makes this season but has also proven that it can win defensive battles. The Bisons pulled out a scrappy 66-62 win over NJIT in Newark, New Jersey, on Jan. 28 and then defeated Florida Gulf Coast 65-60 on the road last Thursday.
Moran (a former walk-on), Mathews and Marberry are all Nashville natives. Alexander and his staff focus on recruiting the Middle Tennessee area first, before widening their search around the Southeast. Eight of Lipscomb’s 15 players are from Tennessee. The strategy has paid off and allows the team to draw even more local fans.
It remains to be seen how quickly (and if) Lipscomb can rise to national success. If the Bisons beat North Florida on Thursday, they can clinch a home game in the second round of the ASUN tournament. Lipscomb can take the top conference seed by defeating both North Florida and Jacksonville this weekend.
The winner of the ASUN regular-season title clinches an NIT berth at minimum, with a chance to advance to the NCAA tournament by winning the conference tournament. The Bisons are in prime position to make that happen, but teams like FGCU, USC Upstate, Kennesaw State and North Florida could get in the way of those plans.
No matter how the season ends, the idea that Lipscomb will finish the season with a winning record is a positive. Years of disappointment had driven even loyal fans away from Allen Arena. The Lipscomb faithful are slowly returning to their seats and will likely be out in full force this weekend as the team looks to improve its ASUN tournament seed.
Photo courtesy of Lipscomb University Athletics