UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Backed by another sensational effort by point guard Steven Kaspar and a big second half from fellow co-captain Cameron Ayers, Bucknell exorcised decades of frustration against Penn State with a 90-80 victory over the Nittany Lions at Bryce Jordan Center on Wednesday night. Kaspar scored a career-high 25 points and Ayers scored 16 of his 19 in the second half to hand coach Dave Paulsen his 100th Bucknell victory.
Penn State had won 12 straight head-to-head matchups against Bucknell, with the last Bison victory coming on Jan. 14, 1976 in Davis Gym (69-64). Bucknell had never won in 10 previous tries at Bryce Jordan, and its last win in State College was a 74-73 overtime decision on Feb. 21, 1968 at Rec Hall.
This one had all the makings of a shootout from the opening tap. Penn State made 10 of its first 13 shots, but Ben Brackney hit four straight 3-pointers to keep the Bison in the game. The Bison would go on to hit 10 of 15 3-point tries and shoot 60.9 percent overall, and they made their final 11 free throws in the final 2:37 to seal the victory. Bucknell hit the 90-point mark for the first time since February 2012 against Lafayette.
Kaspar went 9-13 from the field and 6-for-10 from the foul line. His 12 points at Stanford on opening night were a career high, and he more than doubled that in game No. 2. He also had four assists and two big breakaway layups in the second half, one coming off his own blocked shot at the top of the key, and the other after he stole a pass from Tim Frazier.
Frazier, Penn State’s high scoring All-Big 10 guard, was marked for much of the night by Bucknell’s Ryan Frazier, who made his first career start. Tim Frazier had 13 points and seven assists, but he also had five turnovers and did not make a free throw after going 12-for-17 at the line in a 25-point outing against Wagner in the Nittany Lions’ season-opening win over Wagner.
D.J. Newbill led Penn State with 18 points, and Brandon Taylor and Ross Travis added 17 each. Penn State shot 59.3 percent in the first half but just 40.0 percent in the second, when the Bison outscored the Lions 54-39.
Ayers went 5-for-6 from 3-point range and scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half. Brackney finished with 16 points and Brian Fitzpatrick 13 – career highs for both. Fitzpatrick was 4-for-5 from the floor and 5-for-7 from the foul line. Dom Hoffman also played well off the bench, hitting all four of his shots while totaling eight points, five rebounds and three assists.
“We showed a lot of toughness and a lot of resiliency,” said Paulsen, who is now 100-66 on the Bucknell bench. “Penn State poses a lot of matchup problems, and they are hard for us to defend when they are shooting well. I thought we did a much better job in the second half, and Ryan Frazier did a terrific job on Tim Frazier, who is just a handful to guard. Steven Kaspar was nothing short of tremendous, and Cam Ayers really came alive in the second half.”
Trailing by five coming out of the halftime break, Bucknell scored the first seven of the second period, sparked by a 3-pointer and a long deuce by Kaspar. Penn State quickly struck back with a 7-0 run of its own, with Travis’ trey putting the Nittany Lions back up by five at 48-43.
Tim Frazier’s 17-footer kept the lead at five at 55-50, but the Nittany Lions would go scoreless for the next three minutes while Kaspar started to take the game over. He scored on consecutive drives to the hoop to start a 9-0 run. A triple by Ayers and a Hoffman layup off a great feed by John Azzinaro put the Bison on top 59-55.
Penn State took the lead back with five quick points, but then the Bison ripped off 12 in a row and never trailed again. Ayers’ 3-pointer provided the final lead change with 10:12 to play, and then Kaspar made perhaps the play of the night when he soared through the air to swat Graham Woodward’s 3-point attempt from the top of the key. Kaspar chased down the loose ball and finished the breakaway to make it 64-60. Fitzpatrick scored inside, Hoffman hit a baseline jumper and Ayers’ swished another three – making Bucknell 10-for-12 from the arc at that point – to give the Bison a 71-60 cushion.
Penn State closed within five points on two occasions, but both times the Bison had an answer. Kaspar scored 10 straight Bucknell points in one stretch, capped by his steal and acrobatic 3-point play that made it an 80-70 game with 2:23 left.
With 1:03 left Ryan Hill fed Hoffman for a layup off a well-executed press break, and four straight free throws from Brackney and two from Hill iced the game.
Penn State came out on fire, making 10 of its first 13 shots from the field in the first nine minutes of the game. Fortunately for the Bison, Brackney was just as toasty, as he went 4-4 from 3-point distance to keep them in striking distance. His fourth trey cut a six-point deficit in half, and a three by Ayers two minutes later tied the game for the first time at 26-all.
A baseline drive and finish by Hill capped a 10-2 run and gave the Bison their first lead of the night. That would be the first of four lead changes in the half.
Fitzpatrick converted a 3-point play to put Bucknell in front 32-30 before Allen Roberts answered with a 3-pointer. Tim Frazier hit a floater but was called for a charge after the release, sending him to the bench for the final 3:42 with two fouls. Penn State was able to extend its lead up to six on a Travis 3-pointer, and after a Fitzpatrick free throw, the Lions took a 41-36 lead into the locker room.
“We are a real inexperienced team, and just need to keep getting better every day,” said Paulsen. “We have not arrived yet. I haven’t seen enough day in and day out in practice to say that we are where we want to be after two games, but the effort has been tremendous, and that’s a great sign.”
Bucknell finished with a 28-25 rebounding advantage, led by six from Fitzpatrick and five from Hoffman. The Bison hit 10 3-pointers in a game for the first time since November 2011 against Morehead State at Sojka Pavilion.
Now 1-1 on the season, the Bison will welcome Saint Francis (Pa.) to Sojka Pavilion for the home opener on Saturday night at 7 p.m.