Dylan Penn

Bellarmine guard Dylan Penn directs traffic in the Knights' Freedom Hall opener against Chattanooga.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In their first season of NCAA Division I basketball, there’s a new first almost every week for the Bellarmine University men’s basketball players. On Friday night, another – they will play their first ASUN conference game, when Lipscomb visits Freedom Hall at 7 p.m.

Lipscomb was the preseason pick to finish first in the league, and is the third-highest ranking team in the ASUN in the NCAA’s NET rankings, at No. 245. Bellarmine is fourth at No.246.

Knights coach Scott Davenport expects a tough one. But it isn’t just a new league. Because of the pandemic, the ASUN will play games in 2-game sets on back-to-back nights.

“For fans it’s interesting, for us it’s challenging,” Davenport said. “But our guys are excited about it. They’re in early, getting treatment, getting shots up. I don’t have the words to tell you how appreciative I am of what these players have done every day since July. … We’ve had a great week of practice, and we have great respect for Lipscomb.”

Davenport knows a little about Lipscomb, because he knows a lot about its coach, Lennie Acuff. He faced Acuff four times as Bellarmine’s coach, including twice in his first season.

But just as much as any opponent, Bellarmine – and everyone in the ASUN – will be challenged by the schedule. The Knights have all week to prepare, but then they’ll face Lipscomb twice in 22 hours, at 7 p.m. Friday, then again at 5 p.m. Saturday. It’s a pattern they’ll have to get used to, for this season only.

It’s a challenge unique to college basketball this season. Tournament time might require games on back-to-back days, but not against the same team.

“That never happens, not even in the NCAA Tournament or conference tournament,” Davenport said. “You might place twice in 22 hours, but it’s not the same opponent. So it’s not just the challenge of the first game ever in the ASUN against a preseason No. 1 team, player of the year and great coach, it’s also the challenge of playing in these back-to-back games. We’ve been studying this.”

Davenport spent a lot of time on the phone this week with Iona coach Rick Pitino, his old boss, whose program is on pause but who also will play in this back-to-back format, to get some thoughts on strategy.

“It is unique, psychologically, did you get beat the night before? Did you win?” Davenport said. “Strategically, how do you prevent a team getting in rhythm against you if you don’t show different defensive looks or attack differently offensively. It’s a very unusual challenge, and we’re doing it here against a very good team.”

Lipscomb is led by 6-8, 250-pound Ahsan Asadullah, who was named the league's preseason Player of the Year. Last season, Asadullah was the only ASUN player ranked in the league’s top three for scoring (18.6), rebounding (10.1) and assists (3.9) and finished sixth in the league in blocks (36) and seventh in steals (36). He also added 15 double-doubles, 16 10-plus rebound performances and 12 20-point games a year ago while setting three new ASUN Championship records -- 18 made field goals in a game (quarterfinals vs. FGCU), 89 total tournament points and 42 total tournament rebounds.

Tickets remain available for this weekend’s games, and are available at the door or through TicketMaster. Prepaid parking for $8 is available in advance at this website, or $10 at the gate.

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