BY CHRIS LEE
On his Senior Night, Lipscomb guard Garrison Mathews delivered a performance worth remembering—and bailed out his coach—in the Bisons’ 81-77 win over NJIT at Allen Arena.
Mathews, a Franklin High graduate, pumped in 32 points. He was 9 of 19 from the field with six 3-pointers, and hit all eight foul shots for the Bisons, who are now 22-6 overall, and 13-2 in the Atlantic Sun.
He hit big shots time and time again, including a 6-of-6 showing from the foul line in the final 17.9 seconds.
“It’s a great feeling,” Mathews said afterwards. “It’s awesome to play with those other four [seniors] and spend time with them. It’s about our whole team and doing it for each other. It’s just a great feeling.”
Mathews nailed two free throws with 17.9 seconds left, putting the Bisons up, 77-70. NJIT’s Diandre Wilson answered with a 3 about three seconds later.
Lipscomb inbounded the ball to Mathews, who was fouled in backcourt with 12.8 seconds left.
But LU coach Casey Alexander was called for a technical foul after throwing a clipboard. Wilson hit two free throws to cut the deficit to two.
Mathews calmly answered by hitting both shots on his turn.
“That was really bad, by me,” a relieved Alexander, a Brentwood Academy grad himself, said later. “I was frustrated obviously. It was stupid of me to even come close of putting myself in a position to get that. My mistake. I’m glad Garrison bailed us out at the free throw line.”
Again, NJIT cut the lead to two on a pair of Zach Cooks free throws with 7.1 seconds left. Again, the Highlanders fouled Mathews before the clock started, and he hit two more for the night’s final points.
Two other LU seniors with Williamson County ties—guard Nathan Moran (Battle Ground Academy) and center Rob Marberrry (Franklin Road Academy)—also contributed.
Moran played eight minutes, handed out two assists and had two rebounds in eight minutes, while Marberry scored six points, dished out four assists and had three rebounds.
FRA alum and junior Kenny Cooper also had a big night, scoring 11 points and adding a team-high five assists.
Before the free throws, Mathews beat NJIT with jumpers.
The Highlanders came from 17 down to take a one-point lead midway through the second half. Lipscomb took the lead back, then, Mathews hit 3 straight away to put LU up 57-53, and a pair of free throws on the next trip.
After NJIT cut the lead to three again, Mathews connected on a 3 from the left wing with 6:24 left.
With 4:04 remaining, Mathews, the focus of NJIT’s defensive attention, came around a screen, and barely had time to square his body, but nailed a contested 3 anyway for a 70-65 lead.
“He kept making [jumpers,] Alexander said. “I don’t know how good they were, but he kept making them, and that’s what he does best. Sometimes, you’ve just got to have a guy rise up and basically win the game for you, and it takes everybody.
“But without his contribution on the offensive end the last 5-8 minutes, we might be looking at a different result.”
The Highlanders’ last lead came at 53-51 when Shyquan Gibbs hit a 3 with 10:02 left. Cooper answered with a 3 from the right wing, and the Bisons never trailed again.
However, it felt far from settled after Alexander’s technical foul.
“I was really nervous after we got the technical foul, because we deserved to lose after I did that,” Alexander said. “Over the course of the season, [Matthews has] been a good free throw shooter. But he’s lost a little confidence the last 10 games or so. So it was nice for him to step up there and shoot them with confidence.”
“I’ve had times when I struggled [from the line,] Mathews said. “So it’s all about confidence for me. And when I don’t think about them, I usually knock them down.”
The Bisons came out on fire, leading 25-11 at the 10:27 media time out on the strength of a 7 of 10 showing behind the 3-point arc. Six different players hit a 3 in that span.
The lead ballooned to 31-14 when Mathews hit a 3 from the left side with 6:47 left before half.
But Lipscomb did a poor job of guarding for much of the second half, giving NJIT a chance. The Highlanders beat LU time and time again with lay-ups and short jumpers.
“The lay-ups were a result of not staying in front of our individual men,” Alexander said. “Those were individual matchups, a lot of times, and a lot of them at the end of the shot clock.
“We haven’t had a half like that all year defensively.”
Lipscomb closes the season Friday at North Alabama before the A-SUN tournament gets underway next week.
Photo (Moran, far left, Marberry, Matthews, two on right) courtesy of Lipscomb Athletics.