LEWISBURG, Pa. – Shortly after the unfurling of Bucknell’s 2012-13 Patriot League championship and NCAA Tournament banners, the new-look Bison showed off its scoring balance in a 72-50 victory over Saint Francis (Pa.) in the home opener Saturday night at Sojka Pavilion. Cameron Ayers led all scorers with 16 points, and Dom Hoffman and Chris Hass hit career highs with 14 and 10, respectively, as the Bison improved to 2-1 heading into a nationally televised matchup with St. John’s on Tuesday.
Bucknell never trailed in the game and was able to score effectively both inside and outside. The Bison went 8-for-17 from 3-point range, with Ayers (4-4), Hass (2-3) and Ben Brackney (2-4) making 8 of 11. They also racked up a 38-16 scoring edge in the paint, led by Hoffman’s 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting. Hoffman also had four rebounds and two blocks in 15 minutes of action.
The Bison outrebounded the Red Flash (1-3) 39-23, even though no player finished with more than five boards. Seven players grabbed between 3-5 caroms, however, and 11 different Bison scored a point.
For the third straight game to start the season Bucknell used a different starting lineup, as Hass became the fifth player to make his first career start this season. The move paid off, as Hass scored eight points in the first 7:09 of the game to spark a terrific offensive start for the Bison. They began the night 13-for-17 from the floor, and three straight buckets by Hoffman highlighted a 10-0 run that gave them a commanding 32-16 lead.
Saint Francis hung around by hitting six first-half 3-pointers, but in the final two minutes Ayers fed Hoffman for a pick-and-roll layup, he hit his third trey of the night, and he somehow got a little eight-foot leaner to go down even as he was crashing into his own teammate. That 7-0 run gave Bucknell a 41-25 lead at the half.
The margin went over 20 for the first time on a Steven Kaspar jumper with 12:10 to play, and coach Dave Paulsen used his bench liberally in the second half. Freshman D.J. MacLeay scored four points in his collegiate debut, and freshman John Azzinaro put an exclamation point on the night with a steal and transition layup in the final minute.
“We are making sure to celebrate every victory, whether it’s a win on the floor or simply progress that we make,” said Paulsen. “With our team, it’s going to be different guys on different nights. The staff has embraced that, and hopefully the players will too. Defense is certainly an area that needs to improve. We did a much better job defensively in the second half. Cameron Ayers did a great job defensively with his energy and his talk.”
Bucknell shot 60 percent in the first half and 55.2 percent in the game. They had assists on 16 of 32 field goals, turned the ball over only eight times and won by 22 even though they did not attempt a single free throw in the game. There were only 18 fouls whistled all night, seven against the Red Flash.
Saint Francis, which was tied with Dayton with four minutes to play on Wednesday, was led by Malik Harmon’s 14 points. Ollie Jackson added 11, and Earl Brown had 10 points and nine rebounds. The Red Flash shot 32.8 percent from the floor, including a 9-for-30 showing from 3-point distance.
Bucknell won its home opener for the fifth straight year and improved to 113-33 all-time at Sojka Pavilion.
The Bison will travel to New York City to take on St. John’s on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. at Carnesecca Arena. The contest will be televised live on Fox Sports 1.