The No. 1 seed Lipscomb Bisons (24-6) had very few problems advancing to the semifinals of the A-Sun tournament on Monday night. They defeated the Kennesaw State Owls 86-71 in the first round. Now, the Bisons are preparing to face the No. 5 NJIT Highlanders (21-11) on Thursday at 8 p.m.
The Bisons swept the Highlanders during conference play with a pair of wins. They won 70-52 in their first meeting. The road victory came in mid-January behind a dominating performance from Rob Marberry. The Highlanders had no answers as Marberry decimated the defense on 11 of 12 shooting for 23 points. Meanwhile, Matt Rose came off the bench to pour in 17 points. Defensively, the Bisons were even better by holding the Highlanders to 36 percent from the field.
The second meeting was far more competitive. Although the Bisons jumped out to a double digit lead at halftime, the Highlanders were able to fight back and lost, 81-77. Moreover, the scoring was a complete reversal from the first game. Marberry only scored six points, while all conference guard Garrison Matthews exploded for 32 points. The Bison also connected on 16 of 30 shots from 3-point range in the four-point win.
Meanwhile, the Highlanders played a much better game on the offensive side of the ball as well. Yes, they scored 25 more points in the second attempt at the upset. Yet, their play was highlighted by a total team effort. For example, Zach Cooks was the only player to reach double figures in the first game. The Highlanders had four players produced double figures in the second game, including 19 points by Shyquan Gibbs.
The Bisons longest winning streak ended at 11 games. The Highlanders longest winning streak of the season reached five games in January. However, they proceeded to lose the first four games in February. Still, they are one win away from vying for an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
It will be interesting to see if the Bisons have an opportunity to earn an at-large bid. They don’t want to find out the hard way. Furthermore, a loss in the semifinals of the A-Sun tournament will eliminate them from at-large contention. Yet, they may have a chance if they face the Liberty Flames in the A-Sun title game.
Overall, the Bisons have three players scoring in double figures. Matthews leads the way at 20 points per game. Marberry is producing 14.6 points per game, while point guard Kenny Cooper is scoring 10 points per game. They have five seniors in the rotation. Ten players are averaging over 12 minutes per game.
The Highlanders are a little younger at the top of the lineup. Their leading scorer Cooks is a sophomore. He is contributing 17.2 points per game. Abdul Lewis (13.2 points) and Diandre Wilson (11.8 points) are combining for 25 points per game. The trio presents an inside-outside threat that can be uneven from beyond the arc. That’s why Gibbs must shoot well from the perimeter. He leads all the regulars from 3-point range at 42.6 percent. However, Cooks and Wilson combined to shoot 8 of 14 from 3-point range in Monday’s 83-78 win over FGCU Eagles. They also scored 51 points, while Lewis added 18 points. Meaning, the big three scored 69 of the 83 points.
The winner of Thursday’s contest will play in the championship game on Sunday. They will face the winner of No. 3 North Florida vs. Ospreys and No. 2 Liberty Flames.