Nobody ever said Adnan Hodzic or Jacob Arnett were perfect, and there were times Tuesday when they proved it.
Hodzic eventually said enough was enough and promised his coach he was going to be better. He was — a lot better.
Arnett, on the other hand, needed to hear from a teammate.
Buoyed by words of encouragement from point guard Johnny Lee, who sustained a game-ending knee injury 26 seconds after the opening tip, Arnett made four straight free throws in the final 30 seconds – his only points of the night — and sealed Lipscomb’s 78-72 victory over Belmont before 5,009 at Curb Event Center.
“I have to give a lot of credit to my teammates, especially Johnny Lee,” Arnett said. “He got with me at halftime and calmed me down after (I had) three or four turnovers in the first half. He calmed me down and got my head right.”
So it was that the redshirt-freshman guard coolly made two foul shots that pushed the Bisons’ lead to three, 74-71, with 28 seconds to go and two more eight seconds later, which made it 76-72.
He had hit on 13 of 15 for the season coming into the contest but had attempted more than two in a game once, way back on Nov. 19. Then, of course, there was the fact that none of his previous tries were in such an emotionally charged situation.
“Those situations right there, you can’t really simulate that in practice,” Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson said. “After him not playing very well and to keep his head in it and make those four critical free throws, that’s a credit to him.”
He had seen enough of his teammates make enough of those shots earlier in the contest that it probably did not seem like big of a deal. Lipscomb (10-10, 7-4 in the Atlantic Sun) was 26 of 28 from the foul line, including 21 of 23 in the second half, as it won the Battle of the Boulevard for the third straight time and swept the season series for the first time since 2007.
Belmont (11-10, 6-5), on the other hand, got to the foul line just six times (and made two). The Bruins, who had a two-game conference win streak, relied instead on shots from beyond the 3-point line, where they made 12 of 33.
“That indicates that they were the more physical, determined team,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd. “A team that shoots more free throws is usually a team that plays much better. That was probably the most one-sided margin in my coaching career.”
Credit for the fact that Arnett even was in position to make his timely foul shots had to go to Hodzic, a junior center and preseason All-Atlantic Sun choice, and junior guard Josh Slater.
Hodzic scored 15 of his 25 points in the final 10 minutes as the Bisons rallied from a 13-point deficit. His personal scoring surge started with a layup that cut the deficit to three, 52-49, with 9:57 remaining and included seven straight for his team, the last of which came on a free throw with 49 seconds to go that put Lipscomb in front for good.
He also had a game-high 12 rebounds and two steals, which helped negate the impact of a game-high six turnovers.
“I told (Sanderson) that I got them, that I’ll get the rebounds and I’ll get the stops,” Hodzic said. “That was my main focus. I zoned in on what I do best, and it took care of itself.”
Slater started the comeback with five unanswered points and finished with a game-high 26 in addition to four steals. Forward Michael Teller added 14 points.
Ian Clark led Belmont with 18 points, and Keaton Belcher added 17.
“Their best two players (Hodzic and Slater) just had their way with us in the last five minutes of the game,” Byrd said. “They came to win, and we backed down.”