Let’s all take a moment and acknowledge how much this one hurt to watch.
Lipscomb’s men’s basketball team (7-3) took an exciting road trip to face a tough ACC squad in Louisville (7-3) and lost an excruciating nail-biter, 72-68, on Wednesday night.
The Bisons proved that they have the talent to compete with the majority of schools in college basketball. They were just too sloppy to get it done.
“[Louisville’s] one of the nation’s best,” Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander said following the loss. “[Louisville coach] Chris [Mack] has done an amazing job with them up to this point. I’m glad we came in here and fought.”
And it might have played out differently had Bisons junior guard Kenny Cooper collected an open defensive rebound and then avoided a turnover — all within the last 66 seconds.
But let’s get justifiably optimistic here. The fact that the Bisons stayed as competitive as they did against an ACC powerhouse just might be the final straw in proving that this year’s team is the most legitimate Lipscomb men’s basketball program since the NAIA days.
“We beat a really, really, really good team tonight,” Mack said. “And our team knew that coming in. All you have to do is look at last year with them being in the tournament, playing Carolina tooth-and-nail, bringing back virtually their entire team.”
But it was a sloppy, sloppy game for the Bisons. They had so many opportunities to score in the paint, but they couldn’t handle the ball well.
The Bisons were also out-rebounded, and they watched some of their tallest players get in foul trouble (senior forward Rob Marberry being one of them), giving Louisville a comfy height advantage at times.
“[Louisville is] one of the best in the country at drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line,” Alexander said. “[Their] free throw attempts per field goal attempts is really, really high, so they exposed us there.”
It would have hurt a little less had Lipscomb not lost twice to Belmont this season. Give me a 1-1 split with Belmont and then the close loss to Louisville, and I’d be okay with that.
But here’s my ultimate takeaway: the way the game played out gives Lipscomb fans a lot to look forward to this season.
You can’t forget that this is a team that owns the state of Texas after winning road contests at SMU and TCU (formerly No. 18 in the country). This is also a team that dismantled the likes of Middle Tennessee and Navy.
And this is a team that almost, almost took down a tough Cardinals squad in a crowded, energetic KFC Yum! Center on the banks of the Ohio River.
“Great venue,” Alexander said. “Great fans. Great program. It will teach us a lot.”
With just 66 seconds left in the game and the Cardinals leading 66-65, sophomore forward Malik Williams missed an open three for Louisville. It looked like Cooper would catch an easy rebound and give the Bisons a prime chance to take the lead.
Instead, the ball bounced well over his hands and went to the Cardinals’ offense.
Soon after, a personal foul on Mathews led to a point off of two free-throw chances for the Cardinals, and Louisville led 67-65.
Then, with 46 seconds left, Cooper turned the ball over to sophomore guard Darius Perry at the top of the key, and graduate guard Christen Cunningham sank a stepback jumper with 21 seconds remaining. That gave the Cardinals a 69-65 lead and essentially sealed Lipscomb’s fate.
“Sometimes those things happen, and it just happened at a really bad time,” Alexander said.
It was a tough ending to what was a rough game for both teams. Lipscomb had to make a 12-point comeback at one point during the second half.
But if you were to schedule this game for last year’s Lipscomb team — a crew without the services of redshirt freshman Ahsan Asadullah and redshirt senior Nate Moran due to injuries — they probably would have lost by more than four points.
That was a team that fell to Alabama by 22 points, Texas by 23, Tennessee by 10 and Purdue by 32.
The Bisons’ three losses this season have been by four, two and four.
Last year, Lipscomb also beat Morehead State by seven points and Navy by nine — two teams whom this year they beat by 32 points and 26 points, respectively.
It’s easy to overreact. Sure, perhaps it’s still too early to see where this team is headed. Conference play will be the true test as to whether or not Lipscomb can continue its success.
But the Bisons have continued a trend of giving their opponents a difficult time this year, and it came to life once again on Wednesday.
“We knew what we were up against,” Mack said. “One of the best passing teams, I think, in the country.”
As Howie Lindsey of Louisville’s 790 KRD tweeted after the game: “That Lipscomb team is only projected to lose 2 more games the rest of the season. That’s likely a 28-5, dangerous 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament.”
In other words, if the Bisons can stay healthy and avoid overvaluing themselves, there isn’t much standing between them and another conference title and trip to the Big Dance.
They just have to make sure they keep playing at the same high level when their games start really counting in a few weeks.
Photos by Erin Franklin