Eli Pepper etched his name in the Lipscomb basketball record books Tuesday night.
The lanky post grabbed his 841st career rebound in an 81-66 victory over North Florida, surpassing Adnan Hodzic’s previous record of 840 boards.
Pepper now stands alone as Lipscomb’s most decorated rebounder in the NCAA Division I era, which began with the 2001-02 season.
“It took a lot of hard work,” Pepper said. “[The record] is not what it’s ever been about. It’s been a goal, of course. But it’s more about this team and taking last year’s history and doing better and going further.”
The feat did not come easily. The Kentucky native struggled with consistency early in his career and has often been overshadowed by Lipscomb’s premier scorers like Garrison Mathews and Rob Marberry.
But now, as a senior, coach Casey Alexander said that Pepper serves as a model of consistency and an example for the team’s younger players.
“His effort is always there,” Alexander said. “The thing we can count on the most with Eli is him being ready and giving his best effort. You have a good player and the making of a good team when you have a lot of those guys.”
Pepper’s night against the Ospreys included much more than just the rebounding record. He finished with 20 points and 11 boards for his third double-double of the season.
He also hit a trio of shots from beyond the arc for the second-straight game. Pepper is shooting 42 percent (11-of-26) from long range this season.
“I’ve told a lot of people that it’s taken four years,” Pepper said of his shooting ability. “It’s taken a lot of shots, but I’m so glad it’s here now.”
Alexander said he doesn’t foresee Pepper’s jump shot scaring many teams, but that’s not stopping him from giving Pepper the green light.
“I’ve never called a play for him to get a three – let’s just put it that way,” Alexander said. “He’s on a nice little run right here. As long as [he’s] taking good ones, he’ll continue to shoot and have a nice percentage.”
Many of Pepper’s signature moments have been dunks – his posterization of Texas center Mo Bamba in November 2017 being the most prominent example. But the 6-foot-8 post had something new up his sleeve against the Ospreys.
Late in the first half, Pepper caught the ball along the baseline, faked a pass to his left and dribbled around North Florida guard Garrett Sams, who fell to the hardwood. Pepper then capped the sequence with a layup, much to the delight of the Allen Arena crowd.
“That wasn’t a normal thing,” Pepper said of his ankle-breaking crossover. “I don’t get to do that very often. I just got lucky.”
While Pepper’s surprises make for highlight-reel material, it’s his consistency on the boards and the high energy that he brings to the floor that will be heavily relied on as the Bisons make their way through ASUN action. And that’s exactly what Alexander has been preaching to him for the last four seasons.
“For the first three years, I wasn’t always the most consistent player,” he said. “I’d go for double-figure rebounds one game and then only have one or two [the next game]. I think that message is finally clicking, and I’m slowing down the game a little bit.”
Fleming, Jones sit with injuries
While Garrison Mathews was able to play despite an ailing leg, two Bisons were not dressed out on Tuesday.
Junior Andrew Fleming injured his ankle during the team’s pregame shootaround and spent the night on the bench in a walking boot. Alexander said the severity of that injury hasn’t been determined.
Meanwhile, Greg Jones missed his fifth-straight contest while he continues to deal with a knee injury. Jones has not played since he logged five points and six rebounds in 14 minutes at Louisville on Dec. 12.
Photo courtesy of Lipscomb Athletics