NOTE: The first Backcourt Club Men's basketball luncheon of the 2013-14 season will be held on Thursday at La Primavera Restaurant in Lewisburg. The restaurant is located on Rt. 45, west of Rt. 15, and doors open at 11:45 a.m. The buffet lunch is $9 per person, and Coach Paulsen and select players will be in attendance to talk about the season thus far.

KENT, OHIO – Brian Fitzpatrick led four players in double figures with 16 points and Bucknell showed plenty of resiliency in a 66-59 gut-check victory at Kent State on Wednesday night at the Memorial Athletic & Convocation Center. The Bison were trying to avoid a third straight loss after a strong start, on the road against an 8-1 Kent State team averaging 80.0 points per game, and Bucknell took it over in the final five minutes.

The Bison (4-4) went from seven points down to eight in front after a 15-0 second-half run, but the Golden Flashes (8-2), who had been 7-0 at home this season and who had won 13 straight at the MAC Center dating back to last year, quickly got the crowd back into it with a tying 8-0 run.

A critical offensive rebound by Ben Brackney led to a Cameron Ayers 3-pointer with 4:51 left, and the Bison would never trail again. Ayers hit another trey and came up with a key steal on the defensive end, and then with 30 seconds to play Chris Hass iced it with a 3-point play originating from a sideline out-of-bounds play.

Brackney and Ayers both finished with 12 points, and Ryan Frazier sparked a great night for the Bison bench with 10 on 4-for-5 shooting. Hass had a tough shooting night but finished with eight points and a career-high nine rebounds. Bucknell shot 54.2 percent in the second half, but the story of the game was the team’s defensive performance.

Kent State came into the game on a six-game winning streak and was averaging 80.0 points per game, including a 102-point showing against Niagara on Nov. 23. In this one, the Bison limited the Golden Flashes to a season-low 59 – the last two came on an uncontested layup with one second left – and forced them to take 28 of their 62 shot attempts from 3-point distance. Kent State made just seven of those and shot 37.1 percent on the night.

Bucknell also outrebounded the bigger Golden Flashes and finished with an 8-7 edge in second-chance points. Kent State entered the game averaging over 19 made free throws per game, but the Bison committed only 11 fouls all night and limited the hosts to six free throws in eight attempts. 

“We had a lot of questions to answer after the last two games,” said head coach Dave Paulsen afterward. “We certainly haven’t answered them all yet, there is a lot of season left, but this was a tremendous step in the right direction. All week we never showed any panic, and we never second-guessed anyone. Tonight we had 14 guys locked in. The defense was just phenomenal , and we came up with the toughness plays that you need to have in order to win on the road.”

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Devareaux Manley and Kellon Thomas gave Kent State its largest lead of seven points at 45-38, but then the Bucknell bench sparked a 15-0 run over the next seven minutes.

Dom Hoffman and Frazier combined for the first 11 points in the surge, and then four straight from Fitzpatrick put the Bison ahead 53-45 with 8:57 to play.  

But then the Bison endured some tough shooting luck against Kent State’s zone for a spell, and Darren Goodson hit a free throw, a runner in the lane and a 3-pointer to get the Golden Flashes back in it. Thomas’s layup tied it back up at 53 with 5:30 left.

Ayers, Bucknell’s leading scorer at 15.0 points per game, and Hass had each been limited to just one field goal with five minutes to play, but both Bison came up with critical plays down the stretch. Hass missed a three, but Brackney tipped out the offensive rebound and Hass tracked down the loose ball. Moments later, Steven Kaspar (seven assists) fed Ayers for a 3-pointer that put the Bison back in front 56-53.

Goodson scored in the paint for Kent State, but he missed a free throw that would have made it a 3-point play, and Ayers hit a second straight triple at the other end. After an exchange of misses, Hass drove the lane for a layup to put Bucknell up 61-55 with 2:32 to play.

The Bison missed a chance to pad the lead when Derek Jackson picked off a pass and scored on a breakaway, and then Bucknell missed its only two free throws of the night (11-13) with 1:53 left. Both teams came up with defensive stops, and then with 39 seconds left Ayers stole a kickout pass from Goodson.

Kent State used its sixth foul to stop the clock, and then off a sideline out-of-bounds play in the backcourt, Kaspar found Hass ahead in the open court, and he finished at the basket while drawing a foul. Hass’ free throw made it 64-57, and after a Kent miss, Ayers made both ends of a 1-and-1 with 17 seconds left to ice the game.

Hoffman finished with six points in nine minutes off the bench, all in that 15-0 run. Frazier made two of his three attempts from the arc and scored 10 points. It was his fourth career double-digit scoring game, and two of them have come against Kent State. Frazier scored a career-high 13 against the Golden Flashes in Bucknell’s win at Sojka Pavilion last season.

Ryan Hill did not score in the game, but he played a tremendous 10 minutes at both ends of the floor and was credited with two assists.

“Our bench gave us a great effort tonight,” said Paulsen. “We made that big run in the second half with Dom Hoffman, Ryan Frazier and Ryan Hill on the floor.”

There were six lead changes and four ties in the opening 20 minutes. Kent State flipped a 13-10 deficit into a 17-13 lead with a 7-0 run. After a Bison timeout, Frazier’s 3-pointer kicked off a 7-0 Bucknell run. Brackney’s fourth 3-pointer of the half gave the Bison their largest lead of six points at 27-21.

Fitzpatrick’s layup with 6:17 left in the half put the Bison up 29-24, but those would be their last points of the half. While Bucknell went 0-for-10, Kent State scored the final seven points of the half, capped by a K.K. Simmons 3-pointer, to take a 31-29 lead into the locker room.

Goodson led Kent State with 18 points, and Kris Brewer finished with 11. Mark Henninger did not score but led all players with 12 rebounds. Leading scorer Derek Jackson was held to six points.

Ayers moved into the top 20 on Bucknell’s all-time scoring list. He now has 1,182 career points and moved past Gerald Purnell into 20th place, one behind Hall-of-Famer Joe Gallagher in the No. 19 spot.

Bucknell has one more contest prior to the final exam break. The Bison will host Columbia on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Sojka Pavilion. The men’s game will be preceded by the Bucknell women entertaining Penn starting at 4 p.m. At both games, fans donating a new or gently used toy will receive a free popcorn.