LEWISBURG, Pa - Led by another dominant performance from its two frontcourt stars, the Bucknell men's basketball team kicked off Patriot League play with a resounding 84-55 win over American on Friday night at Sojka Pavilion. Seniors Nana Foulland (26 points, 11 rebounds) and Zach Thomas (27 points, nine rebounds) combined to score 53 points in 53 minutes, making 21 of their 27 field goal attempts as the Bison won their 15th straight home game.
Bucknell (7-7, 1-0 PL), which is 5-0 at home this season, shot 58.9 percent and held American (3-9, 0-1 PL) to 35.1 percent shooting while outrebounding the Eagles by a 44-32 margin. It was just a four-point game at 26-22 with five minutes left in the first half, but the Bison broke it open with a 15-2 run surrounding halftime. They went on to lead by as many as 35 in the second half and cruised home from there.
The inside duo of Foulland and Thomas led the Bison to a 54-28 advantage in points-in-the-paint. Bucknell struggled from the outside, making only 4 of 16 from 3-point range, but dominated on two-point shots, making 29 of 40 (.725). Foulland, who has scored at least 20 points three times in the last four games, including a career-best 30 last time out against La Salle, added 11 rebounds to his 26 points, notching his 19th career double-double. Thomas added nine rebounds to go with his 27 points and has now moved into 16th place in school history with 1,340 points, passing J.R. Holden and Boakai Lalugba with his effort.
"Any win is a good win, especially when you start league play," said head coach Nathan Davis, who picked up his 50th Bucknell win. "You want to make sure you win these games, because it matters at the end of the year. I thought our guys did a very good job executing the game plan. We were much more in tune defensively with what we wanted to do. We made it tough, took away a lot of set threes. Offensively I thought we did a good job sharing the ball and we were able to get some good looks."
American received team highs of 20 points and six rebounds from freshman Sam Iorio. Stacy Beckton Jr. added 11 points.
The Bison were hampered by seven turnovers, 10 fouls, and 1-for-9 3-point shooting in a slow-paced first half. But two straight buckets in the lane by Foulland followed by five straight points from Thomas spread the margin to 11 at 35-24 at the break. A neatly worked set play out of a timeout resulted in a Thomas 3-point play off a pretty feed from Jimmy Sotos with five seconds left in the half.
Thomas then scored on Bucknell's first two possessions of the second half, and Sotos made two free throws for a 41-24 lead. The tempo opened up from there, and the Bison poured in 49 second-half points on 67.9-percent shooting (19-28), getting them over the 80-point barrier for the fifth time in as many home games this season. Bucknell is now averaging 91.0 points per game at home and is 7-1 this season when scoring at least 80 points.
The highlight-reel play came with just over 13 minutes remaining, when Stephen Brown got out in transition and threw a no-look, behind-the-head pass to a trailing Nate Sestina for a two-hand jam. That put the Bison ahead by 20 for the first time. Brown later had another slick wraparound pass to Sestina for a dunk, Sestina fed Thomas for a layup, and Thomas drained his third 3-pointer of the night to close out an 18-4 run that have Bucknell a 72-40 lead with 6:18 left.
The starters got an early breather -- no Bison played more than 28 minutes in the game -- and they built the lead up to 35 at 82-47 on a Matt O'Reilly trey with 2:30 to go.
While Thomas and Foulland again played starring roles, Bucknell did have some other solid performances. Brown finished with eight points, five assists and no turnovers in 27 minutes. Bruce Moore had six points, four rebounds, three blocked shots, and helped limit American's Larry Motuzis (18.2 points per game coming in) to six points on 3-for-16 shooting. Sestina had six points, five rebounds, four assists and two blocks off the bench, and Sotos grabbed a career-high eight rebounds from his guard spot to go with four points and four assists.
After committing seven first-half turnovers, the Bison had only three miscues in the second stanza and finished with 17 assists and 10 turnovers. They also blocked a season-high seven shots while giving up a season-low 55 points. The Eagles shot just 5-for-24 from 3-point range and didn't help themselves at the foul line, making just 10 of 25.
It's been quite a week for Foulland, who is 23-for-30 from the field and has 56 points in his last two games. He is now shooting 61.8 percent on the season.
Thomas logged his ninth 20-point game of the season and upped his season average to 22.7 points per game. He entered the night ranked 15th nationally in scoring.
Now 113-25 all-time against Patriot League opponents at Sojka Pavilion, the Bison will be back at home again on Jan. 2 to host Boston University at 7 p.m.