It’s 56-53 with 13:30 left in the 2nd half when I noticed it.
Tennessee State had just weathered an 8-0 Lipscomb run, and the Tigers were without a field goal for several minutes, a rarity to this point in the game.
First, it was a Michael Littlejohn three that tied the game at 53. Lipscomb responded with a layup and foul to take back that three-point lead. TSU came down the floor, and there was no doubt what they were looking for.
It was an eight-second possession. A Littlejohn three.
Tie ball game. 56-56.
TSU’s bench is into it. For the next few possessions, they’re living and dying by every shot, every rebound, every deflection. Not just one or two guys, the entire team is leaning in on every offensive possession, jumping up and down as Thomas Davis hits another three to put TSU in the lead.
This isn’t the grindy, ball control, power basketball TSU has been known for in recent seasons. TSU is putting up three-pointer after three-pointer, shooting off passes and in transition. They’re playing inside-out, using their big men to free up the guards on the perimeter.
This is fun, flashy, 2018, millennial basketball.
…and I am so here for it.
The Penny Collins era at Tennessee State has begun with a loss, but to me, that’s not the headline. What this team showed against a good Lipscomb team is a team playing a fun style of basketball at a high-level. This isn’t a coach dictating every play from the sidelines or players waiting for the perfect shot that may never come.
This is a team playing with energy.
This is a group of guys enjoying the fight for 40 minutes.
Early, it looked like Lipscomb might run away from the Tigers. The Bisons quickly jumped out to a seven-point lead as their quick-strike offense got guard Kenny Cooper driving for layups; he had nine points by the first media timeout, and Lipscomb was up 11-4.
But the Tigers defense began to settle in, and more importantly, their offense began to respond in kind.
Following a Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey jumper, McKnight scored seven of the Tigers next nine to keep TSU in it.
Interestingly, the success inside kept Lipscomb from shooting threes in the early part of the half, a hallmark of the team under head coach Casey Anderson; the Bison shot only one in the first 10-minutes of the half, and finished the first half 2-6 from deep.
They didn’t hit another three until the final minute.
It was also the dagger that put this one away.
Garrison Mathews’ three from the left corner was perfect the whole way; as soon as it left his hands, you knew it was finding its way to the bottom of the basket. It was his second three and just the third of the game for the Bison, and put Lipscomb up five, leaving TSU to fall just short.
“Our guys tonight, they competed,” Collins said after the game.
Every coach says that. This afternoon, I saw it with my own eyes.
I hate it when I’m right…
5 in 3:16.
...might be in the bonus by the FIRST media if this keeps up.
— OVC Ball (@OVCBall) November 10, 2018
The five were team fouls for TSU and the 3:16 was how much time elapsed in the first half.
They got their seventh less than a minute later, leading to the first media timeout of the second-half. This proved to be a small issue later on; TSU was outshot 31-13 at the free-throw line and 17-9 in the second half.
“Our plan was to stay connected to the shooters and force them to make tough two’s, and their guards made us pay for it.”
I mentioned this above, but Lipscomb has been known as a three-point shooting team, so the fact they were limited not just to three made three-pointers, but just 14 attempts is exceptional.
But Collins is also dead-on that Lipscomb’s guard made hay driving the ball. Sometimes, when you’re playing good teams, it’s a bit of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” but it often better to make a hard call and stick with it. That’s what TSU did tonight, they were able to execute their game plan, and it gave them a shot to win this late.
Fitzpatrick-Dorsey was outstanding
The Ole Miss transfer is showing that talent that landed him in Oxford, scoring a game-high 26 points on 8-14 shooting. I’m not going to make any unwarranted comparisons (yet) but it’s been about six seasons since TSU had a real standout offensive threat, and Fitzpatrick-Dorsey showed us a great flash in the Tigers opener.