Madness! Lipscomb tops FGCU 108-96, wins NCAA berth
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Madness.
That’s the only way to explain this. Lipscomb led by 29 points at halftime, went up by 32 in the second half, then saw the lead get shredded down to five — on the road against a Florida Gulf Coast program that has squeezed the utmost from nearly every opportunity it has gotten in March since becoming the “Dunk City” NCAA darlings five years ago.
“We’ve experienced every emotion imaginable,” Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander said.
With that, it’s time to experience another: The Bisons are going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time.
Garrison Mathews scored 33 points and the second-seeded Bisons — once on the brink of all-out collapse — recovered just well enough in the final minutes to beat top-seeded FGCU 108-96 in the Atlantic Sun Conference title game on Sunday and win the league’s automatic berth into the field of 68.
Lipscomb (23-9) shot 65 percent from the field, an utterly ridiculous 87 percent from 2-point range, and took 47 free throws to FGCU’s 28 on the way to dethroning the two-time reigning A-Sun champion Eagles (23-11).
“Couldn’t be happier,” Alexander said. “Someone asked me how I was feeling. I don’t even know.”
He’s got time to figure it out. Selection Sunday isn’t for another week, and Lipscomb will be one of the teams on the bracket line.
“It was huge for us to keep our composure,” Mathews said.
There are games of runs — and then there was this game, which went about as wildly back-and-forth as one can get.
In the first half, Lipscomb went on a 52-21 run to go up by 32. And just about every bit of that was needed, given that FGCU put together a 42-15 run of its own in the second half.
But the Bisons, who won twice on FGCU’s floor this season, didn’t crumble.
“An excellent performance,” FGCU coach Joe Dooley said. “They got on a roll. I compliment them. I congratulate them.”
Kenny Cooper scored 17 for Lipscomb, which made 15 of its first 18 shots. Rob Marberry and Matt Rose each scored 14 points and Eli Pepper finished with 13 for Lipscomb, which won despite giving up 65 points in the second half.
Zach Johnson tied an FGCU school record with 37 points, 29 of those coming after halftime. Brandon Goodwin added 34 for the Eagles, who were bidding for a fourth NCAA trip in the last six seasons.
Afterward, Johnson struggled containing his emotions when talking about FGCU’s senior class.
“I feel like we didn’t send them off right,” Johnson said. “Yes, we’ve got the NIT, but they just mean everything to me. They’re my brothers.”
Mathews made his first four shots, three of them 3-pointers, in the first five minutes to set the tone for the Bisons, and he was up to 26 points by halftime.
The game was over.
Problem was, no one told FGCU.
The Eagles — still down by 32 with 16:33 remaining — went from finished to fighting to flourishing in the blink of an eye. Johnson scored 17 points in 3½ minutes by himself, but even after that flurry FGCU still found itself down 19.
So they kept digging. Another 3-pointer from Johnson with 10:29 left cut the lead to 10. Goodwin’s layup a minute later got it back to single digits for the first time in forever. Goodwin then connected on three 3-pointers in a 2-minute span, the last two of those getting the Eagles within five.
But they got no closer.
“Thankfully,” Alexander said, “the clock ran out.”
Lipscomb: The Bisons (yes, they use the plural, not Bison) won the title on the 12th anniversary of their only other appearance in the A-Sun title game, a loss to Belmont on March 4, 2006. Alexander was an assistant on that Belmont team. ... Cooper was 11 for 16 from the foul line, and had nine assists.
FGCU: The Eagles lost for only the third time in their last 19 games, that run coming after a 7-8 start to the season. ... This was FGCU’s sixth trip to the Atlantic Sun title game in seven seasons of eligibility.
Lipscomb missed three consecutive shot attempts in one stretch — its last two of the first half and its first of the second half. That was the longest “slump” by the Bisons all afternoon.
Lipscomb: On to the NCAA Tournament.
FGCU: Earned an automatic NIT berth as the regular-season conference champion.