BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – On a night when the 3-point shots were not falling, Bucknell turned to its defense, low-post and transition games to turn back Fairfield 75-64 on Tuesday night at Webster Bank Arena. The victory sends the Bison into an 11-day break for final exams with a 7-3 record against a demanding schedule that saw the team play 10 times in 22 days.
Center Nana Foulland recorded 23 points and 11 rebounds, helping the Bison accrue a 50-24 advantage in points in the paint, and guards Stephen Brown and Kimbal Mackenzie paved the way for 23 fastbreak points. Brown and Mackenzie both finished with nine points and five assists with only one combined turnover, and Brown also pulled down a career-high nine rebounds from his point guard position. Matt O'Reilly hit four of Bucknell’s five 3-pointers and scored 12 points off the bench. Zach Thomas added 11 points and eight rebounds.
Defense was a big story in this one for the Bison. Fairfield piled up 101 points in a 10-point victory over Bucknell at Sojka Pavilion last season. The Bison were much stouter at the defensive end this time. They held the Stags (5-3) to 40.4 percent shooting, and they came up with 13 steals among Fairfield’s 18 turnovers. This was Fairfield’s lowest-scoring game of the season.
Tyler Nelson, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s leading scorer (21.0) who had a 38-point game win a win over Rider last week, was held to 12 points in this one. Amadou Sidibe, the MAAC’s leading rebounder, had 16 points and 15 rebounds.
"This is a good win on the road going into the break," said head coach Nathan Davis. "The guys have worked very hard all season, and I think our 7-3 record is reflective of that. Now we want them to focus on their finals, and that will also give them a chance to rest their legs a bit. We still have a long way to go, and there are many areas where we can improve, but I am very pleased with where we are right now as a team."
Leading 33-29 coming out of the locker room, Bucknell slowly pushed its lead upward. Foulland’s dunk ignited a 7-0 run that upped the margin to nine at 43-34, and the Bison went up by double figures for the first time at 54-44 on three free throws by Nate Jones.
O’Reilly’s second triple in a span of two minutes gave Bucknell its largest lead of 15 points at 64-49. Fairfield, which ended the game on a 10-0 run to beat Army 75-74 last month, pulled within eight at 69-61 on an Amadou Sidibe layup with 2:36 to go.
Bucknell thwarted any hopes of a comeback with three big steals from Foulland, Jones and Brown on consecutive possessions. Brown slashed down the lane for a tough lefty layup, and his steal at midcourt led to a Jones runout that made it 74-61 with 1:07 left.
Foulland (6) and Thomas (4) accounted for each of Bucknell’s first 10 points, and the Bison took their first lead at 13-12 after an O’Reilly 3-pointer. That was the first of nine lead changes in a back-and-forth opening half.
A 2-for-9 stretch by Bucknell late in the half helped Fairfield go back up 29-26. Nelson scored seven straight Stags points in one two-minute flurry. But the Bison kept the hosts scoreless for the final 3:23 and scored seven straight to go up 33-29 at intermission.
Bucknell shot 47.7 percent overall, despite a 5-for-23 showing from 3-point range. Fairfield was 9-for-21 from the arc after hitting 17 treys against the Bison last season.
Foulland had his way in the post all night. He was 11-for-15 from the field and tied his career scoring high, set earlier in the year in a home win over Robert Morris. It was his fourth double-double of the season and eighth of his career.
Bucknell is back in action on Dec. 17 at noon against Siena in Glens Falls, N.Y.