NASHVILLE — The surest bet for today’s basketball game at Allen Arena is that it will be close.
It’s always close when East Tennessee State and Lipscomb get together. The Atlantic Sun Conference teams have split their last 10 games, and half of them have been decided by two points or less. It doesn’t seem to matter which court they’re on.
The first meeting this season ran true to form as freshman guard J.C. Hampton scored on a short jumper with four seconds left to lift the Bison 82-80 in Johnson City. The Bucs had trailed virtually the whole way before tying the game in the final minute.
ETSU coach Murry Bartow surely won’t be surprised if it comes down to the last possession again tonight.
“Seems like all these games go to the wire, just like the first one this season,” Bartow said Friday. “Both teams are on a pretty good little roll right now, so we expect another tough, tight game.”
Freshman Josh Williams erupted for 34 points in the Dome last month, which stands as the high game of the season for Lipscomb. Martin Smith made six 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 21, and Hampton had 13.
It’s a potent offensive mix most nights for first-year coach Casey Alexander, the former Stetson head coach and longtime Belmont assistant.
The Bison are averaging 75.3 points per game, which ranks second in the A-Sun and just a tick above ETSU (75.1). Four players are scoring at least a dozen points apiece, and the team makes about nine 3-pointers.
“I was looking at their stats a second ago, and they’re just scoring the ball at a high rate,” said Bartow. “They’re pretty creative in their attack. They don’t have a huge presence inside and take a lot of threes with really good shooters. It’s a major test for our defense.”
The Bucs (13-11, 6-5) won with defense for a change Thursday night at Northern Kentucky.
They held the Norse to just 17 points in the second half and pulled away late for a 64-50 victory, their fourth in the last five games. They’re now tied for fourth place in the A-Sun.
“That was an unusual game,” said Bartow. “We weren’t very good the first 25 minutes and then played pretty darn well the last 15. We pressured more, which kind of energized us, and ended the game on a 30-10 run.”
Meanwhile, Lipscomb’s charmed life has continued since it clipped the Bucs for its first conference win in early January. The Bison (11-12, 6-6) have won four in a row, and three of them were by a combined five points.
Williams hit a 3-pointer with two seconds left here Thursday night to beat USC Upstate 77-75. He and Hampton each finished with 21 points as the Bison moved into fifth place in the A-Sun, right on ETSU’s heels.
The Smith brothers, junior forwards from Clarksville, are combining for almost 29 points a game for Lipscomb. Martin Smith averages a team-high 15.6, while Malcolm is at 13.1.
Hampton (14.6) is the highest-scoring freshman in the conference, with 61 3-pointers, and Williams is scoring at a 12.4 clip.
ETSU is getting 15.7 points a game from Rashawn Rembert. The junior guard had six 3-pointers at Northern Kentucky to give him a league-best 68 for the season. He’s shooting them at a 43 percent clip.
The Bucs hope a trip home will pick up Hunter Harris. The senior forward, a Nashville native who played at Volunteer State, has been battling illness and contributed little the last two games.
He went 1-for-5 with one rebound in 16 minutes against Kennesaw State, then was held scoreless with one rebound in 20 minutes at Northern Kentucky.
Harris has seen his season averages drop to 9.4 points and 5.2 rebounds; he’s still shooting 57 percent from the field, which ranks third in the conference.
ETSU will regain the services of Lukas Poderis tonight. The reserve forward sat out at Northern Kentucky on a one-game suspension for an altercation with a Kennesaw State player last Sunday.
Freshman guard Devin Harris is still at home in Florida to be with family following the death of his grandmother. Her funeral is today.