The Lipscomb Bisons’ season concluded this past Thursday in the ASUN semifinal as they fell to Kennesaw State in an emotional, hard-fought battle in Kennesaw, Georgia.
The team never lost sight of their goal even at some of the most challenging junctures of the game. This hard-nosed mentality was evident all year, even more so considering how far they had come.
Before we bid farewell to this team, let’s reflect on this year’s season and consider three things for next year.
Flashback to November when hardly anyone believed in this Bisons squad. They were picked to finish sixth in the ASUN Coach’s Preseason poll and eighth in the media poll. This was mainly due to their 14-19 record the prior season, combined with the loss of Greg Jones and Parker Hazen, two starters from that team.
However, the team would find success in the transfer portal, landing a plethora of new talent. Coach Lennie Acuff would acquire new guards A.J. McGinnis (Cincinnati) and Derrin Boyd (Georgetown College), along with forward Matt Schner (Emory).
The team also retained three starters: Will Pruitt, Trae Benham, and Ahsan Asadullah, who elected to return for the extra Covid year that collegiate athletes received.
Fueled by their returning core players and new additions, the team would soar above expectations. In one of the more memorable moments in the season, the team would beat Belmont on a game-winning layup by Jacob Ognacevic. Not only was that a court storming moment for the fans, but it also foreshadowed a roller coaster season for the Bisons.
They would later play Notre Dame and Michigan, two participants from the 2022 NCAA Tournament, to a couple of tough losses, before beating Louisville at the Yum Center, giving Lipscomb their first win against a Power 5 opponent since March of 2019.
The Bisons would get off to a rocky start at the beginning of conference play. They dropped their first two games to Stetson and Liberty, the latter of which head coach Lennie Acuff was absent due to an illness. However, the team grab their first ASUN conference victory in Allen Arena over North Alabama.
The team picked up their biggest win in conference play on February 4th, with a 69-64 win against their ASUN rival Liberty, and closed the book on the regular season with a win in Deland, Florida against the Stetson University Hatters, to finish with an 11-7 conference record, 19-12 overall.
Lipscomb would remain in Florida for the ASUN quarterfinal and pull off another inspiring victory, defeating the Hatters in an 83-70 win. The team then traveled to Kennesaw looking to continue the magic, but the journey would end at KSU Convocation Center with an 80-71 loss. Seniors Ahsan Asadullah and Matt Schner had played their last game and the team approached the Lipscomb faithful with tears in their eyes.
Even with the heartbreaking loss, the 2022-23 season will be regarded as one filled with incredible moments, including Asadullah becoming the all-time rebounder in ASUN history, the buzzer beater by McGinnis that was seen on SportsCenter, and Ognacevic making ASUN All-Conference First Team.
This squad was inspiring, but everyone wants to know how the team will fare next season.
Here are three things to consider for next year.
The rise of Jacob Ognacevic
Ognacevic, a sophomore who began his career at Valparaiso, blossomed into a star in his second year at Lipscomb, raising his points per game average from 11.2 to 17.7, in one of the more exciting stories of the season. He became the reliable scoring option that the Bisons needed to fuel their success. With the likelihood of his game improving further, he will become the catalyst for an offense next year that will look different.
Coaching of Lennie Acuff
Since taking over for Casey Alexander in 2019, Acuff has successfully overcome adversity. He has successfully navigated the turmoil of dealing with the pandemic, losing a large chunk of the roster in his first year after the Lipscomb NIT run, and not having starting center Asadullah for a good potion of last year. Such skill will be a must again next year.
What will things look like come November in terms of the roster?
One of the sadder realities of college hoops is that teams often struggle to maintain their talent. With the use of the transfer portal becoming more and more prevalent, players are able to leave. We know that Schner and Asadullah are gone due to expiring eligibility, but others may leave too. It is certainly a possibility that the Bisons look a lot different in November.
The book is now closed on the 2022-23 Bisons Men’s team. Many questions surround the team as they enter the offseason and figure out plans for the opening night of the 23-24 season.
Photo courtesy of Micah Barkley