LEWISBURG, Pa. – Zach Thomas set school records for free throws made (19) and attempted (22) in a game on the way to a 25-point night, and Bucknell fell four points shy of the team scoring record in a 115-92 rout of Siena in the home opener on Monday night at Sojka Pavilion.
After unveiling its Patriot League title and NCAA Tournament banners from last season prior to the game, Bucknell put forth a championship effort in this one, erasing some of the frustration from an 0-4 start against difficult competition.
The 115 points are the third-highest mark in team history and the most ever in Sojka Pavilion. Bucknell scored 119 against Colgate during the 1967-68 season and 116 against Loyola in 1992-93. This is the 36th time in team history that the Bison have scored 100-plus points in a contest and the first time it has happened against a Division-1 opponent since February 9, 1994 in a game against Lafayette.
Thomas scored his 25 points on only six field-goal attempts. He was 3-for-6 from the field, but 19-for-22 from the foul line (13-for-13 in the second half). Bryan Bailey set the previous record with 17 made free throws against Lock Haven in 2000, and Brian Anderson’s mark of 20 free-throw attempts came against Colgate in 1994. Thomas also led the team with seven rebounds.
Joining Thomas in double figures for the Bison were Nana Foulland, who had 15 points in just 15 minutes of game action, Nate Sestina (14), Bruce Moore (14) and Jimmy Sotos (10). Kimbal Mackenzie tallied nine points, and John Meeks and Matt O'Reilly scored eight each off the bench. Eleven of the 13 Bison in uniform scored on the night, and the bench combined for 46 points.
Bucknell had 24 assists on 33 made field goals, with Stephen Brown (6), Sotos (5) and Mackenzie (4) combining for 15 of them. A number of other terrific passes led to free-throw opportunities. On a night when 54 fouls were called in the game, Bucknell hit 39 of 45 (.867) from the charity stripe.
All told, the Bison shot 61.1 percent (33-54) and made 10 of 20 from the 3-point arc. They have now recorded double-digit 3-pointers in all five games this season.
“I thought we played at a really high level offensively at times in our first four games, but we just couldn’t get a win to show for it,” said head coach Nathan Davis. “We have a lot of respect for Siena and we knew nothing was going to be handed to us. We went out with great focus tonight, spaced the floor well, and a lot of different guys made shots.”
Coming into the game, Bucknell’s senior class of Brown, Foulland and Thomas had accounted for nearly 71 percent of the team’s points this season. With Foulland playing only five minutes in the first half and 15 total due to foul trouble, and Brown playing more of a playmaker role after scoring a career-high 23 at Maryland on Saturday, the Bison showed off their depth in this one.
Moore, making his second career start, got the Bison going with two 3-pointers in the first 2:10 of the game. Those two shots, along with a 3-point play and a dunk from Foulland, gave them a quick 11-3 lead and they never looked back.
Moore finished 3-for-4 from the field, 2-for-2 from the arc, and 6-for-6 from the foul line en route to a career-high-tying 14 points.
Leading 16-9 at the first media timeout, Thomas turned a steal into a breakaway layup along with a foul, kicking off a 9-2 run that pushed the lead into double figures for the first time. Siena later closed within nine at 40-31, but treys from Mackenzie and Sotos along with a 10-for-12 stretch at the foul line sparked a 16-5 run over the last 4:07 of the half.
Bucknell led 56-36 at the break, falling one point shy of the Sojka Pavilion record for points in a half. The Bison would break that mark with 59 in the second half.
All five starters got the rest of the night off with more than eight minutes remaining, but the reserves kept up the relentless offensive onslaught. The lead would rise to as many as 33 at 96-63 on a layup from Ben Robertson. A short jump hook by Sestina gave the Bison a 100-68 lead with 7:15 remaining, and the only drama left was to see if they could break the team scoring mark.
Meeks hit 4 of 6 shots and finished with eight points and five rebounds. O’Reilly canned two long 3-pointers, and Robertson finished two nice drives to the basket.
Sestina’s 14 points were a career high. He had 10 in the first half, two coming on a neat fastbreak lob pass from Brown, and finished 6-for-7 in the game. Sotos added a pair of 3-pointers off the bench and set career highs with 10 points, five assists and two steals in 22 minutes.
Bucknell improved to 1-4 all-time against Siena, including losses by three points or fewer in each of the last three seasons. Nico Clareth led the Saints (0-4) with 21 points.
The Bison are back in action on Wednesday night at home against Ball State, a 21-win team from a year ago. Tip time is set for 7 p.m. at Sojka Pavilion.