Photo courtesy of Robert Dea/Daly Dose of Hoops.
By David Cordova
The National Invitational Tournament is an event with a lot of prestige. At one point, it was an even bigger than the NCAA Tournament. In the present day, it is still a great event to be at. But it is often forgotten, as the NCAA Final Four gets plenty of notoriety. However, in the month of April, it is definitely a time to make a splash on whichever tournament you’re playing on.
This past week, Garrison Mathews attempted to do just that in New York City. Mathews, a 6-foot-5 senior shooting guard at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, is an underrated gem that is a lights-out scorer and was always able to put up numbers whenever he donned the Lipscomb uniform. Over his four years at Lipscomb, which is a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference, he scored 2,480 points for the Bisons.
When asked what motivates him to be successful on the court, he replied, “Just playing with these guys [his teammates], I mean they give me a lot of motivation every day to keep getting better and I’m just appreciative of them pushing me so hard and making me into the player I am today.”
Mathews hails from Franklin, Tennessee, a city that is more than 20 miles south of Nashville and is the seventh-largest city in the state, with a population of over 78,000. Although the South is known for their football, basketball holds plenty of weight in the state of Tennessee.
When asked about the basketball culture in his state, he replied, “I mean, it’s pretty good, I was fortunate to grow up with a bunch of guys that loved playing basketball and football, so we loved playing together. We had a little clique that we grew up with, and we never made it really far in the tournament and I wasn’t near the player that I’ve been in college, in high school, so it’s cool being able to kind of go from being the underdog to making a name for myself a little bit.”
At Franklin High School, he was a 1,000-point scorer and was a two-time All-Region selection & All-District selection and averaged 14 points and six rebounds as a senior. It was also around that time that he also played football.
As a high school senior, he decided to commit to Lipscomb. When asked what led him there, he replied, “It’s close to home, it’s 25 minutes down the road from my house, so I get to play in front of my family and friends. That’s the best part, one of the best parts of being at this school is that I get to be around my family & friends and stuff like that.”
On what a regular day at a Bisons game looks like, he replied, “It’s pretty chill, we’ve got shootaround in the morning, sometimes we have classes depending on what day it is, and then relax and get some treatment, and then get ready for the game and watch film, stuff like that.”
Last season, as a junior, Mathews averaged 21.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game as he led the Bisons to a 23-10 record, an Atlantic Sun Conference championship and a first-round appearance in the NCAA Tournament. When asked about the experience of making the Big Dance, which is a place where many aspire to get to, he replied, “It was cool, it was the first time that Lipscomb has ever won a championship, a conference championship, so it was cool being able to do it for them, and kind of putting them on the map a little bit. But we didn’t win, we lost to North Carolina in the first round, we lost to them by 16, 18, whatever it was.”
And then this season, Mathews averaged 20.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game for the Bisons, which had a 29-8 record and finished tied for first place in A-Sun Conference play with a 14-2 record with Liberty, who would go on to the NCAA Tournament.
On his senior season, he replied, “It’s been good, we’re all super-experienced guys, so we’ve obviously had a lot of success this year that we hadn’t in the past, we’ve had three 20-win seasons in a row, hopefully, trying to make it 30 wins, so it’s been an incredible experience, trying to spend time with these guys, and finishing up a great year.”
This past week, Mathews got to enjoy his visit in New York City, while the Bisons were in town for the NIT. When asked about his time in the Big Apple, he replied, “It’s been awesome, we’ve been here before, but we haven’t been treated like this in New York, so it’s been awesome, being able to act like you’re worth something, so it’s cool.”
On the subject of him being excited about playing at the hallowed grounds of Madison Square Garden, he replied, “Yeah, it’s something everybody dreams about, it’s something I never thought I’d be able to do, so I’m excited about it.”
On Tuesday night, he dominated under the Garden lights with his shooting, as he had 34 points and five rebounds as the Bisons knocked off Wichita State, 71-64, in the semifinals. When asked about the support of the fanbase in the stands, he replied, “Yeah, it’s pretty awesome having all those people here. We had like a sea of purple come in all at once and I was pretty shocked about it, seeing all those people come. We’re really fortunate for the fan base that we have this year and last year, too. But yeah, it was kind of disappointing after the Liberty loss, but they are as resilient as we are coming back and cheering us on for these last games.”
Mathews also added: “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. They are a great team and I think people can finally see that Lipscomb is a basketball school now.”
Unfortunately, the magic could not be repeated on Thursday night in the NIT championship game against Texas, as Mathews went 2-for-10 from the field, but managed to turn in 15 points and eight rebounds in his final collegiate performance, as the Bisons would lose to the Longhorns, 81-66.
When asked how he wants his legacy to be remembered at Lipscomb, he replied, “Not so much as just a basketball player, but you know, we came in and completely changed the culture in how we care about people, having relationships with people in the community, that’s one of the biggest parts of my career that I want to be remembered for.”
Now that he is one of the torchbearers for Lipscomb’s basketball program, there’s a chance that many prospective players will now take an interest in the program. When asked what his pitch would be to a player that thought of coming to the school and playing for the program, Mathews replied, “I’d tell them, it’s an incredible place to be, it’s just, you’re really part of a family, and everybody cares about you, so it’s really one of the best choices I’ve ever made in my entire life.”
With the stats that he has accumulated at Lipscomb, chances are scouts from pro teams are looking at him. This season, he had good games against several schools this season, such as 27 points against Belmont, 29 points against Middle Tennessee State, 20points against Louisville, 22 points against Clemson, 32 points against NJIT, and last, but not least, the 44-point game against North Carolina State in the NIT quarterfinals on March 27th.
When asked about potential professional opportunities, he replied, “You know, I plan on doing something, I don’t know what it is, I haven’t really thought too much into it, but hopefully, I’ll have some opportunities to play. I don’t know exactly how it’s going to go, but we’ll see.”
If and when he gets a chance to compete at the next level, Garrison Mathews will be ready to put in work, just like he did at Lipscomb University for four years. Maybe he’ll get to the G-League or gain an NBA Summer League invite, or possibly a contract to play overseas. What is certain is that the legend of Garrison Mathews will forever be remembered by many in the state of Tennessee. For him, the best is yet to come.