Scott Sanderson’s assessment of Adnan Hodzic’s play in the last two games was concise.
“He’s just gone to another level,” Lipscomb’s basketball coach said.
Hodzic’s transcendent performances in victories over Kennesaw State on Thursday and Mercer on Saturday guaranteed that the Bisons ended the regular season at the top of the Atlantic Sun Conference heap.
Their 85-73 triumph over Mercer before 2,234 at Allen Arena gave them a piece of the conference crown – their first since 2006 – and, by virtue of the league’s tiebreaking rules, earned them the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament, which begins Wednesday at Macon, Ga.
Ultimately, four teams – Lipscomb, Belmont, Jacksonville and Campbell – finished with identical 14-6 records in Atlantic Sun play. For seeding purposes, Jacksonville was No. 2, Belmont was No. 3 and Campbell was No. 4.
Hodzic got his team to the top with a career-high 37 points in addition to 17 rebounds. The junior center was 15-for-21 from the field while his teammates made just 12 of 41 shots.
It was the highest point total ever for a Lipscomb player in the NCAA era and came just two days after he had 24 points and 20 rebounds (the latter a school record for the NCAA era) against Kennesaw State.
“There was no part of me that was going to let my teammates down,” Hodzic said. “We were going to come out to win no matter what it took, and I was going to give them everything that I had. I gave them everything I had.”
Lipscomb (17-12, 14-6 in the A-Sun) started the day in a three-way tie for second place, but prior to tip-off, players learned that East Tennessee had defeated Jacksonville 64-62.
That opened the door for the Bisons, who fell behind 20-11 in the first 6:05. They led for all of 35 seconds in the first half but scored the first eight of the second and went ahead to stay when Hodzic broke a 47-47 tie with six straight points.
“We just really had to focus in as a team,” sophomore guard Jordan Burgason, who scored 14 of his 17 points after the half, said. “We weren’t all there at the start. We just huddled up and said we weren’t going to lose this game. … It was a very important game.”
Mercer (14-16, 10-10) was without its second-leading scorer, 6-foot-8 senior forward Daniel Emerson who was injured near the end of a defeat Thursday at Belmont. The Bears still got four players to double figures, including their all-time leading scorer James Florence (13 points) and outrebounded Lipscomb 42-41.
Hodzic already was the top scorer in the conference and – at 22 points per game – the only player in the league to average better than 20.
He didn’t just play against Mercer. He played better.
“He’s been terrific all year long,” Sanderson said. “He’s been very, very good. You have to worry about him, but people have known that all year long. He’s gone to another level.”
Belmont 74, Kennesaw State 42
Mick Hedgepeth scored 14 points and had a game-high nine rebounds as Belmont became one of four teams tied for first in the final Atlantic Sun Conference standings with a 74-42 victory over Kennesaw State at Curb Event Center,
Belmont earned its place among the quartet of top finishers with eight victories in its last nine contests. Based on conference tiebreaking procedures, though, it earned the No. 3 seed for the conference tournament.
Keaton Belcher put the Bruins (19-11, 14-6) ahead to stay when his 3-pointer made it 6-3 3:14 after the opening tip. That started a 23-6 run, which ended with an Ian Clark 3-pointer that made it 26-9 with 9:35 to play in the first half.
Belmont made 11 of 26 3-pointers for the game. Clark, who finished with 13 points, was 3-for-5 and three others made two apiece. Drew Hanlen added 10 points.
The Bruins open the conference tournament 8 p.m. (CST) Thursday against Mercer. Kennesaw State (12-19, 7-13) will face top seed Lipscomb at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.