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From the basketball files: Lipscomb wins 1986 NAIA men's national basketball championship

Tristan Brew | 

For the first time in program history, the Lipscomb men’s basketball team is going dancing as the Bisons secured their automatic bid for the NCAA tournament with a 108-96 win over Florida Gult Coast University in the ASUN championship tournament final on March 4.

NAIA championship_350Although this marks the first time the Bison men's basketball program has advanced to the NCAA tournament, Lipscomb is no stranger to post-season play in men’s basketball. Before making the move from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to the NCAA at the Division 1 level beginning in September 1999, the Lipscomb men’s basketball program was a frequent contender in the NAIA national tournament making appearances in 1982, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1990-97 and 1999 and made their final NAIA national tournament appearance in 2000. They made it to the final four of the tournament in 1990 and 1996 and brought home the NAIA men’s national championship in 1986.

The 1985-86 Lipscomb men’s basketball team, coached by legendary Bison Coach Don Meyer, ?Lipscomb opened the 1985-86 season by winning its first 18 games and reached the #1 ranking in the NAIA for the first time in school history. However, winning the 1986 tournament wasn’t easy. To advance to the 1986 NAIA men's basketball tournament, the Bisons had to win the Tennessee Collegiate Athletic Conference and defeat Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, an extremely tough place to play, in the District 24 finals. The Bisons entered the 1986 tournament as the 11th seed and were placed in the bracket where they would play a game every night at the national championship tournament held in Kansas City, Missouri’s Kemper Arena.

The Bisons faced Minnesota-Duluth, Emporia State of Kansas and Central Washington all before reaching the final four of the 1986 NAIA tournament. The Bisons opened up the NAIA tournament by defeating The University of Minnesota-Duluth 62-56. In game two Lipscomb defeated hometown favorite Emporia State 79-76 in front of nearly 10,000 fans.

The Bisons advanced to the final four by defeating Central Washington 80-64. The Bisons entered the semifinal game against Saint Thomas Aquinas from New York City, who looked almost unbeatable at the time. Saint Thomas Aquinas upended the tournament's #2 seeded team in the previous round and fans began talking that this would be the team to beat in 1986. However, the Bisons had the game of all games and defeated Saint Thomas Aquinas 102-91, leading by as many as 24 points in the second half. Lipscomb became the only team to top the 100-point mark during the tournament.

The Lipscomb Bisons found themselves in the championship game against unseeded University of Arkansas at Monticello. After a slow first half, the Bisons found themselves down 27-22, but would outscore UAM 45-27 in the second half to take the championship 67-54. The Bisons ended the season with an overall record of 35-4 and Lipscomb's first-ever national championship in basketball. Senior John Kimbrell, from Loretto, Tenn., was named the Tournament's Most Valuable Player and the Bisons were presented the tournament's sportsmanship award. 
Lipscomb became the first team from Nashville to win the NAIA National Tournament since Tennessee State in 1959. The Bisons finished the 1985-86 season with a 35-4 record. 
Lipscomb team members included Don Meyer, head coach; Ralph Turner, Aassistant coach; Seniors, Tom Kelsey from Chattanooga, Tenn.; Jerry Bridges from Valdosta, Ga.; John Kimbrell; and Greg Glenn from Arcadia, Fla.; Juniors Duwain Houston from Savannah, Ga.; Chris Martello from Baker, Fla.; Richard Taylor from Franklin, Tenn.; Bob Ford and Anthony Jones from Huntsville, Ala.; Sophomore Greg Caudle from Huntsville, Ala.; and Freshmen Chris Bradshaw from Norman, Okla.; Tony Clanton from Florence, Ala.; and Dave Kimbrell from Loretto, Tenn. 

In 1999, Lipscomb moved its athletic affiliation from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to the NCAA at the Division 1 level. On Sept. 1, 1999, the NCAA granted Lipscomb provisional membership. The Bisons competed as an NCAA provisional Division I team in 1999, but played a full NAIA schedule and were allowed to compete in the NAIA national tournament. In 2000, the Bisons played a mixed schedule of NAIA teams along with NCAA Division I opponents. In 2001, Lipscomb basketball played its first full Division I schedule, and in October 2001 Lipscomb received membership to the Atlantic Sun Conference beginning in 2003. On Sept. 1, 2003, the NCAA granted Lipscomb active membership allowing all athletic teams to compete for postseason awards both in the Atlantic Sun Conference and in the NCAA National tournaments.

This week, the Lipscomb community will wait anxiously for Selection Sunday, March 11, to see where the Bisons will be slotted in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket. The 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament selection show, featuring announcements of the pairings for the tournament, will be televised on TBS, Sunday, March 11, at 5 p.m. CST.

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