The games against North Carolina, Baylor, Alabama and Memphis don’t require added motivation.
The Lipscomb men’s basketball team realizes that if it knocks off one of those opponents, the Bisons will be the talk of Nashville — and the college basketball world — for several days.
Those types of wins put mid-major programs on the map. Just ask Oakland University. The Michigan school out of the Summit League just upset No. 7 Tennessee on the road on Tuesday.
No, teams like Oakland and Lipscomb definitely don’t overlook contests against nationally ranked opponents.
“It is definitely exciting,” Lipscomb senior forward Adnan Hodzic said. “At the same time, we are in there believing we should win this game. It is not just “Hey, let’s try to pull it out.’ It is ‘We got to win this game.’”
On the other hand, the Bisons have to sustain that intensity when they play lower-profile programs like a Kennesaw State, which visits Lipscomb at 8:15 p.m. on Saturday at Allen Arena.
Kennesaw State, though, is different, yet Lipscomb shouldn’t need a pep talk when the Owls come to town.
After all, Kennesaw State ended Lipscomb’s season last year in the first round of the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament. The Bisons were seeded No. 1 and fresh off winning a share of the regular-season conference title. The Owls were the eighth seed and shattered Lipscomb’s dream of reaching its first NCAA Tournament.
“Who wouldn’t be motivated after getting put out? That is kind of a given,” Hodzic said. “So we are definitely trying to come out here strong from the get-go.”
Lipscomb is off to a strong start with a 6-2 record and 1-0 mark in A-Sun play. Its only two losses have come in road games at North Carolina, which was ranked in the top 10 at the time, and at Baylor, which is now ranked ninth.
Kennesaw State, meanwhile, is just 2-6 and will be playing its conference opener. The Owls, though, have already pulled a stunner this season, shocking the ACC’s Georgia Tech with an 80-63 victory last month.
That should catch the Bisons’ attention in case they have forgotten about last year’s end — but they haven’t.
“They beat us, man. It was a tragic end to our season. I know a lot of the guys are excited to play,” Hodzic said. “We feel we are a great team this year and we have some assets defensively with Robert Boyd, our new point guard, and Brandon Barnes, a freshman also. He will give us a big step in the defensive end. It will be a big conference game. We’re rivals. It will be fun.”
The 6-foot-8, 245-pound Hodzic has led the way, averaging 20.6 points and 9.3 rebounds. He set Lipscomb’s Division I career scoring record last week — he has 1,635 career points — and was named the Atlantic Sun’s Player of the Week on Tuesday.
In addition to Hodzic’s stellar numbers, fellow senior Josh Slater is averaging 19.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and more than four assists a game. The Bisons’ depth has shown through, with six players averaging at least seven points a game.
In addition to the scoring — their 83.9 points a game ranks eighth in the country — Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson has put an emphasis on field goal defense, cutting down turnovers and rebounding.
“Those are the three things that we concentrate on religiously,” Sanderson said. “It is on the board. It is on the forefront of our guys’ brains. If those numbers are affected good or bad, we can kind of tell how we are playing.”
Rebounding hasn’t been much of a problem for the Bisons as they are averaging 41.5 rebounds, while their opponents are grabbing just 35.4 boards a game.
The other two categories, however, Sanderson said need to be tweaked. Lipscomb is allowing opponents to shoot 44.8 percent from the field. As a result, opponents are averaging 78.9 points a game. That ranks 319th out of 336 Division I teams.
Some of those points have come by easy buckets after Bisons turnovers. They are committing 18 turnovers a game.
“You turn the ball over and that field goal defense goes up, unfortunately,” Sanderson said. “We haven’t been clicking on both ends of the floor. We still have a lot of room for improvement and our players know that and understand that. That is obviously a good thing because sometimes winning can cover up your mistakes. We have been winning but we still know we’ve got some areas we have to improve on.”
All those areas will be tested in the next few weeks.
After it plays Kennesaw State on Saturday, Lipscomb will play four straight games on the road. The Bisons will play at Alabama on Dec. 21 and then visit No. 18 Memphis on Dec. 30. They’ll jump back into A-Sun action with games at Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast in early January before finally playing at home again on Jan. 8 against Jacksonville.
“We still haven’t scratched our surface, really,” Hodzic said. “We still have a ways to go… We just have to hold each other accountable as seniors and that is really it. We are going to be a great team and we are looking to do big, big things.”
Against teams both big and small.