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Bisons head to heart of Big Orange country

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Dec. 29, 2005

When Lipscomb basketball coach Scott Sanderson assembled his pre-Atlantic Sun Conference schedule he wanted his team to be challenged.

So far that has been the case as the Bisons have eight of their first 10 games on the road, including Thursday night's 6 p.m. meeting with the University of Tennessee Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena. This is the third Southeastern Conference opponent for the Bisons this season with earlier games at the University of Kentucky and Auburn.

Tonight's match-up with the Volunteers, 7-1, may be the most challenging of the three for the Bisons, 5-4. The Volunteers are coming off a 93-68 victory Tuesday night over Alabama A&M. The Bisons have not played since a 73-71 victory Dec. 19 at Nicholls State.

The game will be televised live on CSS.

"More than anything the Tennessee players have bought into what Bruce Pearl is trying to get them to do," said Sanderson. "They have the same personnel they did last year, but they have bought into the effort and the energy it takes to be successful in the SEC. They are off to a great start."

Sanderson is not restrained in his evaluation of the Volunteers.

"Tennessee is awfully good," Sanderson said. "They are fourth in the country in scoring. They are very explosive and very athletic. They are averaging more than 84 points a game and shooting around 50 percent from the field.

"They are averaging 23 turnovers and 11 steals a game. And all of those are translating into lay-ups which are back-breakers."

Sanderson is especially concerned about the backcourt duo of Chris Lofton and C.J. Watson.

"They are shooting the blood out of it from 3-point range," said Sanderson. "They are two of the most under-rated guards in the country."

The Bisons have to play almost mistake-free basketball, with the elimination of turnovers the top priority.

"We have to take care of the ball," said Sanderson. "And we have to rebound the ball."

The Bisons will also have to put together another strong defensive effort, while also improving their shooting percentage on their first time to play on the Summitt Floor at Thompson-Boling.

"We've got to be very, very good defensively," said Sanderson. "I don't think you stop a team like Tennessee, but you have to try to at least slow them down.

"We have to shoot better. With the way we defend and rebound on most nights we are going to be fine if we start shooting the ball better. But against Tennessee you have to be better than fine."

The Bisons have been boosted in their defensive games by the improved play of junior guard Brian Fisk. He is coming off a season-high 22 points at Nicholls State, and has led the Bisons in scoring in the last two games.

"Brian is playing a lot better," Sanderson said. "He is one of our best players on both ends of the floor. We need Fisk, Eddie Ard and James Poindexter to all play well on the same night. We haven't had that happen this season."

Center Shaun Durant has been the most consistent player for the Bisons averaging 10. 7 points and 10 rebounds per game.

"If you told me before the season that Shaun would average 10 points and 10 rebounds I would have said sign me up," said Sanderson. "He is Mr. Consistency."

Sanderson and the Bisons are approaching the Tennessee game as a win-win situation regardless of the outcome. The Bisons practiced Christmas night, the first time Sanderson has ever had a practice on Christmas in seven seasons at Lipscomb. He likes the preparation he has seen the past few days.

"It's our last game before we play 18 straight conference games," said Sanderson. "It is the state school of Tennessee. Most people aren't expecting us to go over there and win.

"We will go out there and play to the best of our ability," said Sanderson. "If that is good enough so be it. If it is not, then we have 18 conference games staring us in the face."