During the non-conference slate, it would seem that Liberty’s men’s basketball program was the stronger team after beating two SEC teams and rattling mid-major programs.
Lipscomb meanwhile had just two non-conference wins against Division I, opponents, after being picked to win the ASUN.
But then the script completely flipped Saturday at Allen Arena, as the Bisons (6-5, 1-0 ASUN) raced off to a 35-14 advantage over Liberty (8-4, 0-1 ASUN) late in the first half and won the game 77-70. Liberty would narrow that lead to as little as three in the second half, but Lipscomb led the entire game.
“It was a really, really, really good team win… we only turned it over four times, and that’s fantastic,” Lipscomb coach Lennie Acuff said during a postgame interview with ESPN+.
The Flames were without head coach Ritchie McKay, who is dealing with COVID-19. Associate head coach Brad Soucie took his place.
Redshirt junior center Ahsan Asadullah led the way with 24 points after struggling to score consistently all season, while sophomore guard KJ Johnson continued his impressive second-year campaign with 17.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” Asadullah said. “I knew that eventually, they would be falling. I’ve been working on it outside of practice.”
Senior forward Parker Hazen and grad transfer guard Romeao Ferguson combined for 16 rebounds on the defensive side.
Liberty meanwhile got 16 points out of its leading scorer Darius McGhee, a 5-9 guard with great vertical ability. But his dreary day at the three-point line (2-for-9) highlighted what was a lackluster overall team performance from downtown.
The Flames came in leading the nation in made three-pointers, but they went 7-of-29 on Friday. On a normal day, Liberty makes 11 or 12 of those. Considering the score, that might have been the difference.
Lipscomb took an early 8-0 lead from Asadullah and Hazen before Liberty could even get on the board. A jumper from Asadullah put the Bisons up 20-7 with just under 12 minutes left. The Bisons used the help of three treys to expand that to 39-15 with under 4:30 remaining.
“We really wanted to try to get off to a good start defensively, because they just have so much firepower,” Acuff said.
Liberty then went on a 10-0 run capped off by a four-point play from redshirt junior Keegan McDowell. The Flames only allowed three more points from the Bisons heading into halftime, but Lipscomb still led 42-29 at the mid-game mark.
Liberty started the second half on a 6-0 run and eventually narrowed Lipscomb’s lead to 48-45 with 14:17 to go, but that ended up being the best moment of the day for the Flames. Every time Liberty scored, it seemed Lipscomb always had a response, even later bringing the lead back up to as much as 11.
“Every time we had a chance to break, we didn’t do it,” Acuff said.
Redshirt junior guard Greg Jones, in his first game back from an injury suffered on December 12, made a critical three-pointer with 4:10 left to go and put the Bisons up 67-58. McGhee narrowed the lead to five with 22 seconds left, but it was too little, too late.
“It’s just really good to have Greg back,” Acuff said. “Greg had been having not a good year, [but] a great year when he got hurt against Belmont.”
Lipscomb plays Liberty again on Saturday at 4 p.m. CT as part of the ASUN’s COVID-modified conference schedule. The game can be listened to for free at thebisonradio.com and also watched on ESPN+.
Photo gallery by Mckenzi Harris.