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Bisons set for opening round game with Mercer in A-Sun Tourney

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Feb. 28, 2007

The Atlantic Sun Conference basketball tournament doesn't start until Thursday, but for Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson "March Madness" began Monday.

The Bisons, the No. 4 seed, will play Mercer, the No. 5 seed Thursday night at 8:15 CT at the Memorial Center in Johnson City.

"This time of the year is more mental than it is physical," Sanderson said. "We play for this week, not just for Thursday."

The Bisons opened the tournament last season with a 78-62 win over Mercer in the quarterfinals. The Bisons have won their last five meetings with Mercer. But Sanderson isn't concerned about the history of the series.

"Mercer is a scary team because we have beaten them five times in a row," Sanderson said. "They are a very explosive team.

"We have to respect every opponent. They are very good team offensively. We have to be zoned in defensively. We have won some games against them, but those games are history. We have to go out and compete Thursday night."

The Bisons enter the tournament with two losses to close out the regular season. Sanderson has been able to use those losses as a teaching tool for his players as individuals as well as a team.

"I don't like getting beat, but that may be helping us to have a better vision of what we need to do," Sanderson said. "They way we have played in our last our games may have been a blessing. When you get beat you get exposed. It has kind of refocused us.

"The thing I like the most is that every player wanted to know what it happened. Now they understand and they are all on board. It is more about us than who we are playing."

One of the primary concerns for Sanderson is the failure of his team to produce on a high level offensively, especially in the second half of the season.

"We are a good shooting team that has not shot the ball particularly well," Sanderson said. "We have to understand what is a good shot and what is a bad shot.

"We have to shoot better. If we could shoot 45 percent we would be O.K. We are getting shots. We just aren't making them."

In the last five games senior guard Brian Fisk has averaged 16.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Junior forward Eddie Ard has averaged 13.4 points and 5.6 rebounds in the same stretch. Junior center Jason Hopkins is averaging 7.4 points and 7.0 rebounds in his last five games.

Sanderson doesn't put any special emphasis on any of the regular season games. He does, however, let his players know that one mistake in the tournament can contribute to a loss. And if you lose in the tournament the season is over.

"People ask me why I don't treat the Alabama game, the Vanderbilt game or the Belmont games any differently," Sanderson said. "My guys will make those games big enough by themselves. I don't have to say anything.

"This week is different. Now, at our level, you win and advance or you lose and go to the house. I know the character of our team. I know if we get beat it will be that the other team is just flat out better than we are."

The tournament continues through Saturday with the winner earning the A-Sun's automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament.

"I feel very good about it," Sanderson said. "We have lost two games, but I feel very good about going into the tournament. I have all the reasons in the world not to feel good, but because of our players and what they stand for I feel very good.

"We are good enough to win three games. We are also temperamental enough to lose Thursday night to Mercer."