Not long ago, the Lipscomb Bisons were the new kids on the block.
After becoming a national power at the NAIA level under the late Don Meyer, the program moved up the ranks and began playing a full Division I schedule in 2001.
The school accepted an invitation to join the Atlantic Sun shortly after, and former head coach Scott Sanderson attempted to navigate the always difficult transition from one level to the next.
Given the situation, Sanderson did a good job putting the program in a place where it could succeed down the road.
And now, the Bisons are achieving that success.
It started a season ago when head coach Casey Alexander led the program to its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid, which ultimately resulted in an 84-66 loss to North Carolina. However, the result wasn’t the most glaring part of that game.
What stood out was the feeling that Alexander and company had built something special, and it wasn’t one that simply went away after a tournament loss to one of the top college basketball programs in history.
But perhaps the state of North Carolina is the next best stop on Lipscomb’s journey.
In what can only be described as one of the best college basketball games this season, the Bisons went into a rowdy environment and grabbed a 94-93 win over NC State to secure a spot in the NIT Final Four.
It was a game that featured everything you’d want. It had lots of scoring. It had back and forth action the entire way. It also had a battle between two players who did everything possible to fuel their respective team to victory.
NC State guard Torin Dorn put on a show by scoring 34 points on 15-of-22 shooting while also grabbing nine rebounds.
After most games, Dorn would be the player we’d be talking about most.
Instead, it’s Lipscomb senior Garrison Mathews, who went for a career-high 44 points while connecting on eight 3-pointers to fuel the Bisons to 56 second-half points.
College basketball is supposed to be fun, and my goodness, this game was fun.
It was also yet another clutch performance from Alexander’s road warriors, which isn’t all that surprising. Earlier in the season, Lipscomb notched road wins at TCU and SMU, and now they’ve added three straight over Davidson, UNC Greensboro, and NC State.
Simply put, the Bisons own the states of Texas and North Carolina right now.
I’m kidding. Well, sort of.
Far too often we brush the NIT aside as though it means nothing. It means something to Mathews, Alexander, and the numerous other players and coaches that have worked relentlessly to give Lipscomb an opportunity to compete on the national level.
Earning that opportunity took time. There were losses and disappointments along the way, including coming up short in the ASUN title game just a few short weeks ago.
But as they always say, how someone responds to adversity tells you a lot about them.
So if you want to tell the Bisons the NIT doesn’t matter, go right ahead. Their recent play proves otherwise.
It may not be the biggest tournament going on at the moment, but this incredible NIT run is one more building block in what has been a long line of them since Alexander took over as coach in 2013.
His crash course in how to build a program started long before that.
He played for the legendary Rick Byrd at Belmont for several years in the early 90s before joining his staff as an assistant. When you consider what Byrd has accomplished throughout his career, it’s safe to say that Alexander picked up more than a few useful ideas that would help him at future jobs.
Of course, little did he know that one of those jobs would be leading the way for Belmont’s biggest rival.
But Casey Alexander has implemented the same types of principles that Byrd used when he first started helping the Bruins make their ascent, and it has worked beautifully.
The Bisons may be a little nervous when they step into basketball’s most famous arena next week at Madison Square Garden, but don’t expect them to be intimidated.
They’re here for a reason, and there are plenty of people along the way that have played a role in the building process.
Yes, this is indeed March.
And the road warriors from Lipscomb are marching on to the Big Apple.
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