LEWISBURG, Pa. - Bucknell's three seniors -- Stephen Brown, Nana Foulland and Zach Thomas -- combined for 57 points to lead the Bison men's basketball team to an 87-83 victory over Ball State Wednesday evening at Sojka Pavilion. It was the second straight home win for Bucknell, which overcame a five-point halftime deficit. Thomas led the way in the scoring column with 22 points -- his fifth 20-point game in six outings this season -- while Brown added 19 and Foulland 16.
Thomas connected on 12 of 14 free throws, making him 31-for-36 over the last two games. He also grabbed a game-high eight rebounds. Brown was sensational, pickup up 15 of his 19 points in the first half and then all five of his assists (with no turnovers) in the second period. He scored 13 of the team's 15 points during one stretch late in the first half to keep the Bison on the game. Foulland also had seven rebounds and four blocked shots, and he moved into a tie for fourth place with Dan Bowen on Bucknell's career blocks chart with 160.
The game was close throughout, as neither team led by more than six points, and there were 20 ties and 11 lead changes. The Bison took the lead for good on two free throws by Bruce Moore with 1:48 left. A breakaway dunk by Moore gave Bucknell a five-point cushion with 15 seconds to play and freshman Jimmy Sotos sealed the victory by making 1 of 2 free throws to put the Bison up four with 8.9 seconds remaining. Sotos had a career-high 12 points, all in the last 14 minutes of the game, with two assists and a steal in 28 bench minutes.
Tayler Persons led Ball State (1-4) with 21 points. The Cardinals had faced a similar grueling schedule to Bucknell's, with losses to Dayton, Oklahoma and Oregon surrounding a win over Stony Brook. A 21-win team a year ago, Ball State grabbed a small early lead and kept responding to Bucknell's mini-runs. It seemed as if every time the Bison tied it or climbed ahead by a point, the Cardinals would answer with a four or five points in a row.
That was the case late in the first half, when Brown's free throws with 1:36 left tied the game at 39. But Kyle Mallers hit a 3-pointer and Persons broke loose for a transition layup to give the Cardinals a 44-39 lead going into the locker room.
Moore hit a 3-pointer -- one of only four in the game for Bucknell after it had made double-figure treys in each of the first five contests -- to tie the game at 48 early in the second stanza. After a swap of free throws, Ball State took its largest lead of the night when Zach Gunn converted a 4-point play, followed by a baseline jumper by Jontrell Walker.
The Bison immediately responded with a 7-0 run, keyed by some good minutes off the bench from Matt O'Reilly. He threw an inbounds alley-oop to Nate Sestina, then hit a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game. Sotos turned a steal into a pair of free throws, and the Bison had a 57-56 lead with 14:14 left.
Foulland made both ends of a 1-and-1 to put the Bison in front 61-58, but a 3-pointer from Ishamel El-Amin and a put-back by Mallers got the Cardinals back in front. Later they restored their six-point cushion at 79-73 when the Bison left Francis Kiapway all alone on the left wing for a triple with 5:08 to play.
The Bison finally got some defensive stops when it mattered most. They limited the Cardinals to just one field goal and four points the rest of the way. Sotos slashed down the lane for two, and then Brown did the same with 3:03 left to make it a one-point game at 79-78. Then Brown came up with a steal, raced up the court and left a neat dish to Moore for a layup, and the Bison had the lead back at 80-79 with 2:43 to go.
Persons drove baseline for two of his own, but at the other end Moore drew a foul on a jump shot just as the shot clock was expiring. He made both with 1:48 left to give the Bison the lead for good. Persons missed a contested layup, and Sotos hit 1 of 2 at the line. Persons was called for traveling in the lane as he was guarded by Moore, and then Thomas split a pair at the line to make it 84-81. Looking for a potential tying shot in the final 20 seconds, Mallers got an elbow up on Moore away from the ball and was called for an offensive foul. Bucknell broke the press, and Brown's pass ahead to Moore led to a breakaway jam.
Persons made two free throws with 10 seconds left to make it 86-83, but Sotos was fouled on the inbounds and made 1 of 2 at the line to seal the win.
"Ball State is an excellent team -- they finished second in a really good league last year -- and we knew we would have to play extremely well to win," said head coach Nathan Davis. "It certainly wasn't easy, but we finally got a bunch of stops late in the game after we fell behind by six. That's what we need to do if we want to be a championship team. We will all enjoy Thanksgiving dinner a little more coming off a win, but we know that we have a lot of work to do to get where we want to be."
Coming off a 115-point showing in Monday's home win over Siena, points were a bit harder to come by in this one. The Bison shot 45.8 percent for the game, including 4-for-18 from the arc. But for the second straight game, they made major headway at the foul line. Bucknell was 39-for-45 against Siena, and then 29-for-37 in this one. After setting school records for free throws made (19) and attempted (22) on Monday, Thomas was 12-for-14 at the line in this one. His streak of 20 straight made free throws ended when he rimmed out the back end of a two-shot foul early in the second half.
This was Bucknell's first win over Ball State in three all-time meetings. The Cardinals' wins came in 1971 and 1998 at neutral-site holiday tournaments.
Now 2-4 on the season, Bucknell will return to action on Sunday with a 2 p.m. game at Stony Brook.
Postgame Press Conference: