In the final 90 seconds, six straight points from Ogilvy snatched victory once and for all for the ‘Dores.
The 23rd-ranked Commodores move to 8-0 on the season, their best start since Matt Freije and company rattled off 12 straight wins to open the 2003-2004 season. With two ACC foes disposed of, the remainder of the non-conference schedule looks manageable enough for these ‘Dores to match that 12-0 start. First, though, Foster and friends aim for 9-0 when the Lipscomb Bisons visit Memorial on Saturday night.
The Bisons (4-5) make the short trip down West End in the middle of a roller coaster of a non-conference schedule. Coach Scott Sanderson's crew started the year with four straight losses, including a 23-point home waxing at the hands of Appalachian State. Since then, they've won four out of five, with the lone loss coming by just four points on the home floor of a solid Purdue team.
After losing leaders Trey Williams and Brian Fisk to graduation, the rough start could have been anticipated. Now, a talented freshman class has begun to get used to the college game, and the result has been much better play.
Senior Eddie Ard leads the Bisons into Memorial averaging a team high 13.1 points per game. The 6-5 swingman has struggled with his shot in the early going. He's shooting just 35 percent from the field, 65 percent from the free throw line, and a meager 27 percent from behind the arc, all of which are noticeably down from a year ago. However, Ard overcame a slow start last season to lead the Bisons in scoring in a 59-50 loss to the Commodores. He has the size and quickness to get to the basket and finish in traffic, but Ard prefers to rely on a usually reliable jump shot, even when he's battling inconsistency. Wake's James Johnson used an inside-outside game to torment the Commdores, and though Ard can't match Johnson's size or athleticism, he's got the skill set to do similar damage, especially in the mid-range. Shan Foster will need to keep up his superb defensive effort against the Lipscomb senior.
Junior Michael Lusk slides over from off guard to take over the point for the Bisons this season. He leads the team in assists with 3.0 per game, and his 9.3 points per game are good for third on the team. Lusk has been a bit turnover prone in his first season at point guard, but his shot selection has improved. He's shooting a career-high 47 percent from the floor, and his 12 three-pointers tie him with Ard for team best. Shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc, though, Lusk has been much more efficient from the perimeter than Ard. Unlike Wake Forest's guards, the junior doesn't present much of a threat to penetrate, but his outside shooting will force the ‘Dores to play him tight. Lusk is also the team's best defensive guard, leading the team in steals with 1.7 per game.
Joining Lusk in the backcourt is 6-3 senior LaKory Daniels. Averaging just 6.1 points per game, Daniels is only a modest scoring threat from the wing. Emblematic of the entire Lipscomb squad, the senior has failed to shoot the ball with any consistency so far. After starting the year by knocking down 6 of 13 three-pointers, Daniels has made just 3 of his last 16 attempts from beyond the arc.
Freshman forward Brandon Brown has made quite the first impression on Lipscomb fans, averaging 9.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in his first season. At 6-7, the Nashville native and Brentwood Academy alum has perimeter skills in a forward's body, making his recruitment a real coup for Lipscomb. Brown has been brilliant during the Bisons' current three-game winning streak, averaging 15.3 points and 10.7 rebounds over that span. Like Eddie Ard, Brown is equipped to hurt the Commodores from anywhere on the floor. He's the type of "tweener" that has given Vanderbilt trouble this season, a guy who can operate near the basket, take a bigger defender off the dribble, or even knock down the three-pointer – Brown is shooting 47.6 percent from long distance.
Senior Jason Hopkins gives the Bisons a true, if undersized post player. The 6-7 Hopkins averages 7.1 rebounds per game, good for second on the team, and though he's not a prolific scorer (5.7 ppg), he hasn't been an offensive liability. The senior is shooting 54.5 percent from the floor. Defensively, Hopkins has struggled against taller posts. He's fouled out of four games already, and he has committed at least three fouls in each game. The Bisons, then, will likely rely on 6-9 freshman Adnan Hodzic to defend A.J. Ogilvy. At 245 pounds, Hodzic provides a physical presence inside and rebounds very well.
Junior Thomas Pfaff and freshman Jimmy Oden round out Scott Sanderson's primary rotation. Pfaff, a 6-8 forward, started the first five games for Lipscomb, but he's since assumed a bench role. He works almost exclusively around the basket, where he averages 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. Oden, a 6-3 backup point guard, was a spark plug off the bench in the Bisons first two games, but he's been hampered by injury since. After missing six games, he returned in Lipscomb's most recent game but logged only seven minutes.
Lipscomb boasts the Atlantic Sun's top-ranked scoring defense, allowing just 66.3 points per game. Over the past five games, they've lowered that to 61.6 points per game. Part of their defensive success has come from a tendency to play at an excruciatingly slow tempo; the Bisons average just 65.4 points per game themselves.
Saturday's game is the last of a four-game homestand before the ‘Dores head to Chicago to take on DePaul. Before they go, they'll have to deal with a scrappy Lipscomb team that gave the home team all it could handle at Memorial last season. The Bisons dictated the tempo for the entire game, slowing the pace to a crawl. They led Vanderbilt at halftime before finally bowing out in the final minutes. Lipscomb will likely turn to a similar strategy to try to score the upset this time around. For the Commodores to avoid a letdown and grab their ninth straight win, here are the keys to the game:
- Feed the Aussie: Even if the Bisons manage to control the tempo like they did a year ago, the Commodores are much better equipped to win a slower game this season. If the pace does grind to a halt, the ‘Dores must make sure A.J. Ogilvy gets a touch every time down the floor. Adnan Hodzic is capable of providing some resistance against the Vanderbilt freshman, but Ogilvy should have his way once again. If Lipscomb controls the tempo, look for him to lead the Commodores in scoring.
- Clean It Up: The Commodores weren't sloppy with respect to turnovers against Wake Forest, but at times they made some curious decisions. Hasty shots, lazy passes, and negligence in transition defense allowed the Deacons to hang around until the final buzzer. The ‘Dores, Alex Gordon and Ross Neltner in particular, have looked sharper in every other game; the home team will need a return to focus in a game in which possessions will be at a premium.
- Dolla Beal: The sophomore point guard has made huge strides in his second season as a Commodore. He leads the team in assists and has posted a sparkling 2.35-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, both indicative of how well he's managed the Vanderbilt offense. Playing at slower tempo puts added pressure on the point guards to control their team at all times. Further, a Vanderbilt effort to increase the tempo starts with Beal, who has proven that he can play at more than one speed.
Prediction: In the near upset of Purdue, Lipscomb shot 51.2 percent while holding the Boilermakers to a dismal 32.4 percent from the floor. Against Wake, the Commodores shot a season-low 44 percent. On Saturday, these two events will have to coincide for Lipscomb to pull off the upset. If the Commodores return to the shooting excellence they've displayed most of the season, the young Bisons don't stand much of a chance. Final score: Vanderbilt 78, Lipscomb 64.