Garrison Mathews wasn’t ready for his college career to end Wednesday in the NIT quarterfinals at NC State.
Instead, the Lipscomb senior dropped a career-high 44 points to lead the Bisons to a 94-93 upset victory over NC State in Reynolds Coliseum.
But it was Kenny Cooper that made the game-winning shot, an off-balance jumper with 1.7 seconds remaining. That advanced Lipscomb to the NIT Final Four in New York City.
“We’ve won big road games already. We’ve got a lot of experience,” Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander said. “Every time they came over to the huddle, they thought they were going to win. These guys believe in what they’re doing, they’re performing when their number is called and we got the result we wanted.”
The Bisons (28-7) are set to battle Wichita State April 2 at Madison Square Garden. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Mathews set the tone by scoring Lipscomb’s first 11 points, and he didn’t stop there. The senior guard finished the first half with 20 points and added 22 more in the second half. That included eight three-point makes.
“My teammates were giving me great passes, great screens,” he said. “They were helping me get open a little bit. It was just nice to get off to a little bit of a start, and it just kept going.
NC State guard Torin Dorn nearly kept pace with Mathews and finished with 34 points, 21 of which came in the first half. Junior guard Markell Johnson scored all 19 of his points in the final 20 minutes for the Wolfpack.
The contest was back-and-forth throughout, although NC State took a 47-38 lead into the break thanks to a Braxton Beverly three just before the buzzer.
But Mathews went on a personal 11-4 run midway through the second half to erase the deficit. From there, the teams traded baskets until the final buzzer.
“It was a tremendous offensive game,” NC State coach Kevin Keatts said. “It literally came down to who had the ball last.”
Mathews threw down a dunk to tie the game at 88 with 1:11 remaining. Cooper then hit a corner three with 24 seconds left to give Lipscomb a 92-91 lead, but Johnson made a layup with eight seconds left to put NC State back on top, 93-91.
Cooper took the ensuing inbound pass and dribbled all the way down the court for his game-winning jumper, silencing the Wolfpack portion of the sellout crowd of 5,500. Cooper finished with 12 points and seven assists.
“He’s been an incredible player for us all year long,” Mathews said of Cooper. “We all trusted him to take those shots.”
Mathews’ 44 points were the most scored by an opposing player in Reynolds Coliseum history. The sharpshooter’s previous career high of 43 points came at Kennesaw State in January 2018.
“We knew coming in that he was a big-time scorer,” Keatts said. “I’m leaving the game saying he was the best scorer we played against this year.”
All three of Lipscomb’s NIT wins have come in North Carolina. The Bisons squeaked by Davidson 89-81 March 19 and throttled UNCG 86-69 last Saturday.
NC State finished its year 24-12 overall. Wednesday’s loss was just their fifth defeat at home this season.
Texas and TCU will join Lipscomb and Wichita State for the NIT semifinals next week.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Alexander said. “We get to keep showing what our team and our program is made of. It’s really a privilege to represent Lipscomb to the world right now.”
Photo by McKenzi Harris