After hitting 1,000 rebounds in his illustrious Lipscomb career (1,013 entering Thursday) and in the process morphing himself into the fourth leading rebounder in Atlantic Sun Conference history (the first Bison in the D1 era to pull down as many rebounds), Caldwell County basketball alum Eli Pepper had one more in him; the greatest stage he's ever seen.
The Mecca. Madison Square Garden. For the first time in their history.
A team that likely should have had their crack at the big dance, the Lipscomb Bisons (29-8) found themselves in a program-first NIT championship game against Texas at Madison Square Garden in New York on Thursday night.
The end resulted in a runner-up trophy for the first time in team history, as the Texas Longhorns hooked 'em.
Texas, which had beaten Texas Christian in their semifinal match, ecstatically took the championship game win by storm, leading by over 20 points in a show to take the 81-66 championship final Thursday night in the Garden.
Pepper finished with three rebounds and missed all three of his shot attempts from the field. Garrison Matthews finished with 15 points, but didn't look like himself as he missed eight of his 10 shots, making up for it at the charity stripe (10-10).
Rob Marberry was the only other Bison in double figures with 17.
Lipscomb led by three early in the first half before Texas ran away with it for good thanks to timely steals and three-point shooting.
The Lipscomb senior, Pepper and the Bisons also came from 11 points down in the semifinals against Wichita State Tuesday night in a 71-64 shocker, scoring the last 14 points of the night in the final four minutes.
Pepper had just one bucket in the game on two shot attempts, but pulled down a ridiculous 15 rebounds.
Garrison Matthews led the Bisons with 34 points in the semifinals. Matthews had been brilliant, passing North Florida's Dallas Moore for second place on the ASUN all-time scoring list and becoming the first player with back-to-back 30 point games in the NIT since 2011.
After blowing a small 35-30 lead at halftime, Garrison erased Wichita State's 11-point lead and nailed the go-ahead triple in the final minute to cap off a 21-3 run to send the Bisons to their first ever NIT championship via holding the Shockers without a field goal in the final eight minutes.
Rob Marberry also had 14 points in the semifinal game to join Matthews in double figures.
For Lipscomb head coach Casey Alexander, regardless of Thursday's outcome against Texas, people ought to know Lipscomb's name now.
"I think people should know about us now, wining conference last year, playing UNC, pretty close to the end. And then this year, we're still playing, we're one of four teams still playing after the first two games of the Final Four from March Madness. So any time that a team is playing in late March and early April, it's a pretty big deal," Alexander said.
"They are a great team and I think people can finally see that Lipscomb is a basketball school now."