Scott Sanderson and his wife Ronda — for one day, at least — could breathe easy. There were no guarantees about the next three weeks, though.
Following a string of down-to-the-wire contests, Sanderson’s Lipscomb basketball team won convincingly on Sunday. The Bisons defeated Jacksonville 79-61 at Allen Arena in a game they led for the final 28:35. They were up by six at halftime and extended that margin to as many as 21 twice during the second half.
“I know two people who enjoyed that — myself and my wife,” Sanderson said. “My wife has been worn out with these ones down to the wire.
“We’ve had four of our last five games come down to the last possession, so it was good not to have one of those (Sunday).”
That victory and one by Belmont over North Florida an hour later put the two local schools atop the Atlantic Sun Conference standings. Lipscomb (13-11 overall) and Belmont (15-10) are both 10-5 in conference play with the same five opponents remaining on their schedule. Three other teams — Jacksonville, Campbell and East Tennessee State — are all a half game back at 9-5.
The Bruins have won four straight and six of their last seven. Their only defeat in that stretch was to Lipscomb. Sunday’s victory came on the strength of 31 points by freshman guard Ian Clark.
“We have such a young team, I think it’s probably best that we just focus on trying to get better from game-to-game or even practice to practice rather than set any goals or talk about things like championships,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said.
Lipscomb, on the other hand, came into the season talking about championships. The Bisons were selected as a co-favorite, along with Jacksonville, for the title in preseason voting by the conference coaches. The media picked them to finish second.
Their last three conference defeats have been by a combined eight points. The same was true of their last three conference victories, including back-to-back one-point triumphs over ETSU and Campbell on Jan. 30 and Feb. 1, respectively.
The most recent defeat was 72-70 at home on Friday to North Florida, which made a game-winning layup at the buzzer. There also was a 71-69 loss to ETSU on a last-second 3-pointer back on Jan. 21, which was followed two nights later by a four-point loss to Campbell.
“It hurts, especially at home when that happens,” junior guard Josh Slater said. “It happened a couple weeks ago (against ETSU) and we didn’t respond the next game.
“(Saturday) we had a great practice and we were able to bounce back (Sunday). It was a great team effort.”
Slater shared game-high honors with 21 points against Jacksonville, which pushed him past 1,000 points for his career. Teammate Adnan Hodzic also had 21 points in addition to 11 rebounds – his fifth straight double-double and 51st game with at least 10 points.
Lipscomb held the Dolphins to 36.9 percent shooting for the game and forced 15 turnovers.
“To-the-wire games just really wear and tear on your body and, especially, mentally,” Hodzic said. “The wins are great. They feel a lot better.
“But just to know that we played about the best we’ve played all year defensively (on Sunday) and the way the coaches want us to play makes us all really happy. We knew this whole year that we had another level to go to defensively … and we did it against a very, very good Jacksonville team.”