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39 days ‘til opening day: How far can Garrison Matthews and Lipscomb’s offense carry it?

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NCAA Basketball: Lipscomb at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Nov. 10 couldn’t come soon enough.

As we slide through the final weeks before college basketball returns, we’ll look at one storyline about the upcoming season that lines up with the number of days until opening day. Keep coming back to see if we have the creativity and dedication to pull this off. No promises.

It’s Oct. 2 and we’re just 39 days from opening day.

And on the 39th day (until opening day), we shall bring you previews. With the Atlantic Sun leading off our preview series, it wouldn’t make sense to ruin the theme of the day.

We know that Florida Gulf Coast is the team to beat. We also know that of the teams gunning for the Eagles, Lipscomb might have the most firepower to unseat the heavy favorite. One of the players leading that charge is junior guard Garrison Matthews, a member of our preseason all-league first team and Doug Gottlieb lookalike (right?).

Here’s what the Tennessean wrote about Matthews heading into last season:

The former Franklin High sharpshooting guard was one of the nation’s top mid-major freshmen last season. By the time Atlantic Sun play began, Mathews had established himself as one of the Bisons best players. He finished tied with a team-high 15.2 points per game average in league play. Mathews and shooting guard Josh Williams, who reached the 1,000-point scoring mark in his career last season earlier than any player in Lipscomb history, will give the Bisons one of the best back courts in the conference.

He only improved on those numbers (20.4 PPG), becoming one of the ASUN’s most explosive scorers as he went for 27 or more points on seven occasions in 2016-17. One of those blistering nights came on Jan. 19 at Jacksonville, where Matthews went for a Lipscomb Div. I record 39 points.

And how he got there plays into the “39” theme too. That night, Matthews went 18-for-21 from the free throw line. That seems like a statistical oddity but it wasn’t out of character, as Matthews had the third-best free throw rate during ASUN play (53.3%), part of the reason he was so difficult for defenses to contain.

Generating free chances was a staple of a Bisons offense that had the ASUN’s most efficient offense during league play. They had a team free throw rate of 39.1 percent, and knocked down 76.9 percent of their chances while there, both tops in the conference. With eight of their nine leading scorers returning, the Bisons should continue that offensive excellence in 2017-18.

Lipscomb will need shore up a defense that was battered on the interior a season ago, and get more consistent point guard play from senior sharpshooter Nathan Moran and promising sophomore Kenny Cooper. But with a consistent Matthews-led offense, the Bisons have a puncher’s chance at not only the getting their first Battle of the Boulevard win since 2012, but also making FGCU sweat.