Men’s basketball overcomes 19-point deficit to shock Lions

FLORENCE, Alabama – The Lipscomb men’s basketball team staged a 19-point comeback to beat the North Alabama Lions on Saturday afternoon at Flowers Hall in Florence, Alabama.

Down 42-23 with 18:26 left in the competition, a resilient Bisons team found their way back to one of their biggest deficits of the year.

“I’m really proud, I’m really happy for them,” said head coach Lennie Acuff.

Junior center Ahsan Asadullah led the charge with a double-double, grabbing 10 rebounds to go with a team-leading 23 points. Asadullah shot 9-12 from the field and went 2-2 on three-pointers, adding seven assists and three blocks to a successful outing at both ends of the court.

Despite a knee injury early in the second half after missing time earlier this season with knee issues, the Atlanta native scored 14 second-half points to set up the comeback.

Asadullah moved away from a screen clutching his knee, raising fears of a serious injury, but the cross returned just over three minutes later.

“He’s a very, very good player,” Acuff said, “and he played 33 minutes – I thought he was done when he came out.”

Down 40-23 at halftime, Lipscomb fought back with an eight-point streak, a seven-point streak and a six-point streak to finally cut the lead to four points with 5:52 left.

A Dallas Howell three-pointer for UNA gave the Lions a 64-57 lead, but a three-pointer and three free throws made it a one-point game in the final media timeout.

The lead spun around until graduate forward Parker Hazen made a pair of free throws to put Lipscomb in the lead 74-72 with just 21 seconds left.

Howell missed a three-pointer at the other end for the Lions, and freshman goaltender Trae Benham picked up the game-winning defensive rebound and sealed the win at 75-72 with a free throw.

For all the brilliance of the Bisons’ second-half performance, it took a poor first-half performance to necessitate the comeback.

“It doesn’t take anything away from northern Alabama, but I thought [the first half] was the worst we’ve played all year,” Acuff said. “[UNA head coach Tony Pujol] had his team much better prepared than mine. But I challenged them at half time, and obviously Trae Benham was amazing.

Benham dominated the backcourt, exploding for 20 of his 22 points in the second half. Benham went 4-5 at the three-point line and charity strip, finishing 6-7 from the floor.

“He played great basketball, and every time we needed a field goal or a save someone would come in and do it for us,” Acuff said. “Obviously it was a win that we needed, but I’m glad we showed a lot of heart. We lost a lot of tough games like that, so winning one was fun.

Benham’s 22 points are a career-high for the rookie from Concord, North Carolina, and he’s completed five rebounds and an assist.

Despite shooting 8-23 that day, Daniel Ortiz scored 27 points to lead all scorers for North Alabama.

The Lions gave up a second-half lead for the second straight game after surrendering a buzzer-beater to Eastern Kentucky to force overtime, where they would lose 80-76.

Hazen, a 5th-year forward from Columbia City, Indiana, played the entire second half with three fouls and the final 8:24 with four fouls. The transfer from Valparaiso scored 12 points including 8-9 on the free throw after entering the game as a 58% free throw shooter.

Without Asadullah and Hazen in key moments of the second half, the Bisons relied on younger players to make the score manageable.

“A real credit to our guys,” Acuff said. “We often had three or four freshmen tonight, and whenever we needed someone to step in, they did something.”

After losing four of their last five games going forward, Lipscomb have now won two of their last three as they build momentum for the ASUN tournament in two weeks.

“Right now we have to focus on Monday and Tuesday in training and then go and play well at Bellarmine,” Acuff said, “but for us we would like to have a home game. [in the first round of the ASUN Tournament].”

The Bisons are up 12-17 on the year and sit fourth in the West Division with an ASUN record of 5-9. They will face Bellarmine next Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky.

This game will be broadcast live on The Bison, Lipscomb’s campus radio station.

Photo by Parker O’Neal

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