The Wichita State and Lipscomb men’s basketball programs will meet for the first time Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament. The game, set for a 6 p.m. Central time tip, will be broadcast on ESPN.
Fans can purchase tickets to the semifinal session and Thursday’s championship game, with the winner playing the winner of Texas-TCU semifinal, through the NCAA website or by calling the Wichita State ticket office at 316-978-3267.
The Shockers are the first NIT team to beat the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in a regional. As WSU looks to become just the fourth team to win consecutive championships after winning in its last appearance in 2011, here are five things to know about the opponent standing in the way.
1. This Lipscomb team set a program record for wins
After winning the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament for the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth, winning 23 games, Lipscomb followed it up with a 28-7 campaign, breaking the program record in wins for a second straight season.
Lipscomb tied for the Atlantic Sun regular-season championship this season, but lost 74-68 to Liberty in the conference tournament championship game.
Since moving to the Division I level in 1999, this year’s NIT final four run is the most success the program has had.
“It’s hard to put into words what this means to our team,” Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander told The Tennessean. “We’ve got five seniors that get to keep playing, and we get to keep showing people in college basketball what this program is made of. That’s the short-term benefit, and we’ll see about the long-term residuals.”
2. Garrison Mathews is the real deal
Mathews is a 6-foot-5, 204-pound senior who is averaging 20.7 points and was voted Atlantic Sun player of the year. He makes 45 percent of his shots from the field and is making 3.2 three-pointers per game on 41 percent accuracy.
Those kind of scoring numbers aren’t anything new to Mathews. He averaged 20.4 points on 46 percent shooting as a sophomore and averaged 21.7 points on 47 percent shooting as a junior.
But he is taking more three-pointers, as 57 percent of his shots have come from beyond the arc. Hoop-Math.com shows Mathews as just an average finisher at the rim (56.8 percent), but an above-average two-point jump shooter (43.2 percent).
Mathews ranks in the 94th percentile in the country on spot-up opportunities, per Synergy, and scores 1.22 points per possession when he can spot up.
He scored a career-high 44 points, including eight three-pointers, to lead Lipscomb to the semifinals in a 94-93 win over North Carolina State on Wednesday.
3. Lipscomb is experienced and knows how to win on the road
No team in the country features more career points on its roster than Lipscomb. The Bisons, with 8,723 career points, have 1,700 more points than any other team in the country. Lipscomb returned more than 90 percent of its offensive production from last season.
The team has five seniors that all play and three that start with the other two starters being juniors. According to KenPom, Lipscomb ranked 13th in the country in minutes continuity for this season and 47th in roster experience.
That experience has paid off on the road for Lipscomb this season, as the Bisons have racked up a nation-best 14 road wins.
4. Lipscomb is one of the best three-point shooting teams
The comparison to the Marshall team that knocked off the Shockers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season isn’t a bad one.
Both teams play at a scorching-fast pace. They’re both led by dynamic outside scorers (Marshall’s Jon Elmore dropped 27 on the Shockers last year, while Mathews is in a similar mold). And they both use the three-point shot as their biggest weapon.
Lipscomb doesn’t rely as much on the outside shot as Marshall did, but the Bisons are also a much-better shooting team. Lipscomb has a pedestrian three-point rate, but the Bisons make 38.2 percent of their shots from distance, a mark that ranks 22nd in the country. That comes out to 8.9 three-pointers per game for Lipscomb.
While Mathews (7.9 three-point attempts, 41 percent) is the leading cause for that, Lipscomb has plenty of other shooters. Matt Rose is a stretch forward who comes off the bench and takes 3.4 threes per game, connecting on 39.5 percent. The other guards that start with Mathews, Michael Buckland (38.6 percent) and Kenny Cooper (37.8 percent), are also above-average shooters.
5. Lipscomb won a thriller to reach NYC
It took a career-high 44 points from Mathews and two go-ahead shots in the final 30 seconds from Cooper, but Lipscomb prevailed with an improbable 94-93 victory at North Carolina State late Wednesday.
When N.C. State held a 91-89 lead with the ball and 26 seconds left, Lipscomb’s winning probability bottomed out at 8 percent, according to KenPom.com. But Lipscomb stole the inbounds pass and Cooper drilled a three for a 92-91 lead. When N.C. State answered with 9 seconds left, Cooper went the length of the floor and pulled up for the game-winning jumper with 1.7 seconds left.
This is just the second NIT appearance in Lipscomb’s history. Lipscomb lost its opening game to UTEP in 2006 in its only other appearance. The Bisons beat three North Carolina teams to reach the semifinals: Davidson, UNC Greensboro and N.C. State.