Respect, bragging rights, an undefeated record and an entire boulevard were at stake on Tuesday night when the Battle of the Boulevard went down inside Allen Arena.
Coming off of a big win against USC Upstate, the Bisons had all the confidence in the world that they would be able to improve since the last time they faced the Bruins. The Bisons lost that game 88-52 less than two weeks ago.
With the deck stacked against them coming into the game and for much of the first half, the Bisons were able to rally from an 18-point deficit with 24 minutes left in the game.
“For the first 16 minutes, we were not very good,” Coach Scott Sanderson said. “We didn’t do anything we wanted to do offensively and defensively. I was extremely aggravated at our players.”
In the last four minutes of the first half, the Bisons started their run. Trailing 38-20, the Bisons cut it to 40-31 with an 11-2 run that re-energized not only the team but the fans as well.
Luckily for Sanderson, the Bisons did not stop their scoring when the half ended. The Bisons came out red-hot and outscored their cross-town rivals 42-24.
“To come back from an 18-point deficit says even more about the resiliency of our players,” Sanderson said. “But it is one game with nine more games to go. We have 32 days to keep getting better until March gets here.”
After the game at Belmont earlier this month, some questioned if Lipscomb center Adnan Hodzic was outmatched by Belmont big men Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders. The Bosnian native proved tonight that he was not outmatched; it was just a bad game.
In the game at Belmont, Hodzic was held to just 7 points. Against the Bruins in Allen Arena, Hodzic led all scorers with 26 points.
For Hodzic, most of the season has been ups and downs.
“This whole season has been a grind,” Hodzic said. “I really didn’t think it could get any harder than last season, but it did. I had to learn to have blind trust in my coaching staff. And in my opinion, we have the best coaching staff in the country. I had more space in the low hole than I have had in a conference game this year.”
If there were any doubt that Hodzic would mention the fans, he did. Just before big free throws or defensive possessions, the senior could be seen at center court getting the crowd on its feet and louder than ever.
“I honestly don’t think we could have done it without the fans,” Hodzic said. “On some of the put backs and some of the close buckets, the fans went nuts. They gave us energy whether they believe it or not. They were definitely huge.”
Senior Brandon Brown also showed up for the Bisons in a big way tonight. Scoring 17 points and grabbing a game-high 10 rebounds, Brown had his best game of the year by far.
“Coach Sanderson has told me all year that if a team doesn’t respect me I have to punish them on the backboards like I tried to do against Belmont. I just wanted to bring some energy.”
Shooting and shot-selection also played a big role in tonight’s game. During the game at Belmont, the Bisons shot just 29 percent from the floor. However, on their home court, the Bisons shot 48 percent from the field.
Belmont was led by their point guard, Drew Hanlen, who tallied 12 points for the Bruins.
One also has to give credit to LU guard Josh Slater, who played most of the second half with four fouls. His consistent play on the offensive and defensive ends was key down the stretch for Lipscomb.
While Slater had foul trouble, the Bruins only attempted seven free throws all night. Lipscomb was 17-26 from the line.
The Bisons are 12-8 overall, 7-4 in the conference. Belmont is 18-4 overall, 10-1 in the A-Sun.
The Bisons’ next game is Friday when Stetson and Lipscomb tip-off at 7 p.m. in Allen Arena.