PALO ALTO, Calif. – Featuring three first-time starters and a bevy of players in new roles, the “new-look” Bison men’s basketball squad gave Stanford all it could handle in the season-opener on Friday night, but the Cardinal prevailed 72-68 before a spirited crowd of 7,233 at Maples Pavilion. In a game that was not decided until the final half-minute, Ben Brackney led Bucknell with 13 points and eight rebounds, and Steven Kaspar set three career highs with 12 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in a terrific all-around performance at point guard.
Cameron Ayers added 11 points and Brian Fitzpatrick had 10 for the Bison. Head coach Dave Paulsen had used 11 players by the 6-minute mark of the first half. Ten of them scored, and eight grabbed at least one rebound as Bucknell held its own on the glass against a huge Stanford team that started a frontcourt reaching 6-7, 6-10, 6-11.
All-Pac-12 honoree Dwight Powell, one of five returning starters for the veteran Cardinal, recorded 17 points and 12 rebounds, and speedy point guard Chasson Randle led all scorers with 18 points. Anthony Brown had 14, including a critical 3-pointer late in the contest, and Stefan Nastic added 11.
“I thought we really battled and competed hard from start to finish,” said Paulsen. “The effort was outstanding, but by the same token we did not fly all the way out here for a moral victory. Everyone in our locker room thinks we could have and should have won the game. Stanford hurt us with their size and speed in transition. That is a really big team.”
A 3-pointer by Aaron Bright gave Stanford its biggest lead of the night, eight points at 63-55 with 7:01 to play. The Cardinal had a chance to stretch it to double figures but the Bison came up with a stop, and a layup by Fitzpatrick off yet another sensational feed by Kaspar ignited a 9-2 Bucknell run.
Ayers slashed through the lane for a layup, and then Kaspar hit two free throws to make it 63-61. Nastic scored in the post for Stanford, but the Bison pulled within one point when Kaspar skied for an offensive rebound in the paint and kicked it out to Ryan Frazier for a 3-pointer. Powell put back his own miss at the other end, but then Kaspar’s no-look pass connected with Brackney in the right corner, and Brackney was fouled shooting a 3-pointer. After a media timeout, Brackney made 2 of 3 to make it 67-66 Cardinal with 2:47 to play.
Stanford had been hurting the Bison with hard drives to the basket all night, but on the next possession Randle drove and kicked out to Brown on the left wing, and Brown buried a 3-pointer to stretch the margin back to four.
Kaspar had a layup blocked, but then he stole the ball right back at mid-court and scored on a layup with 54 seconds left to make it 70-68. After a timeout, Stanford went inside to Powell, and he scored from the right block. Ayers had a good look at a 3-pointer but it rimmed out, but the lead remained at four when Randle missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Brackney took a three from the top of the key and again it went in and out, and Stanford rebounded with four seconds left. The Cardinal missed another front end, but the Bison only had time to launch a desperation shot at the buzzer.
Brackney, one of the three Bison making his first career start, hit a 3-pointer on the first possession of the season. Kaspar assisted on Bucknell’s first three buckets of the night, including a sweet no-look dish to Fitzpatrick for a layup. Fitzpatrick and Dom Hoffman, the other two first-time starters, scored on consecutive trips to give the Bison a 9-8 lead.
Cory Starkey, the first substitute of the season, hit a short baseline jumper to make it 13-10, but the Cardinal countered with a 9-0 run to go up 19-13, which was the largest lead of the half for either side.
Freshman John Azzinaro stopped the surge with a 3-pointer on his first collegiate shot. Stanford later went back up by six at 33-27 after a Powell steal and layup. Ayers, who had yet to score at that point, hit a pull-up jumper with 2:48 left in the half. Kaspar followed with a neat up-and-under scoop shot, and Ayers swished a 3-pointer to give Bucknell the lead back at 34-33 with 1:15 left in the half.
Josh Huestis scored from the baseline to put Stanford back up 35-34 at the break.
Kaspar carved up Stanford’s zone defense all night, repeatedly getting into the belly of the defense for drive-and-dishes or layups of his own. He finished at the rim four times, got fouled on two other drives and went 4-for-4 from the line.
Bucknell’s guards also did well on the defensive glass. Kaspar snagged six defensive boards, while Brackney and Ayers had five each. Stanford finished with a 38-32 rebounding edge, but the Bison led 12-4 in second-chance points. The Cardinal had nine offensive rebounds, but four of those came on one flurry early in the game.
The Bison had 14 assists against only seven turnovers, while Stanford had 11 assists on 26 baskets and turned the ball over 10 times. Bucknell shot 42.9 percent from the floor and went 6-for-21 from the arc and 8-for-9 from the foul line. Stanford shot 48.1 percent overall, 5-for-15 from 3-point distance and 15-for-21 from the line.
“We need to embrace the process and keep getting better every day,” said Paulsen. “We are still building, but if we can compete like that, bounce back emotionally and let me coach them hard, we can be a very good team by the end of the year.”Bucknell is back in action on Wednesday at Penn State at 7 p.m. The home opener follows on Saturday, Nov. 16 against Saint Francis (Pa.) at 7 p.m.