LEWISBURG, Pa. – Brian Fitzpatrick tallied a game-high 16 points, Chris Hass hit the tying and go-ahead free throws as part of a 14-point night, and Cameron Ayers registered a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds to lead Bucknell to a hard-fought 57-52 victory over Columbia on Saturday night at Sojka Pavilion. Ryan Hill led another solid bench effort with eight points and four assists for the Bison, who are now 5-4 on the season heading into a 13-day break for final exams.
Bucknell started out slowly in this one and managed only 22 first-half points on 34.8-percent shooting, but thanks to some solid defense the Bison trailed by just three at the break. In the second half Bucknell went to work inside. Fitzpatrick scored 11 of his 16 in the final 20 minutes, and the guards had success driving the ball to the basket. As a result, the Bison attempted only three shots from beyond the 3-point arc while going 16-for-20 from the free-throw line in the second half.
This game followed a similar flow to Bucknell’s victory at Kent State on Wednesday. In that contest, the Bison erased a seven-point deficit with a bench-fueled 15-0 run, saw the Golden Flashes rally to tie, and then Bucknell took the game over in the final five minutes.
Bucknell trailed by as many as eight points in the first half against Columbia. The Bison regained the lead in the opening moments of the second half on back-to-back post moves by Fitzpatrick, and later in the half Hill had four points, an assist and a key steal in a 9-0 run that gave them a 38-31 lead. That run came just after Hass and Ben Brackey had to go to the bench with three fourls with 15 minutes remaining.
Inside seven minutes to play Columbia had made only one 3-pointer all night, but triples by Cory Osetkowski and Isaac Cohen sparked a 12-4 run that put the Lions back in front 50-48 with 3:07 to play.
A Bison turnover gave the ball back to Columbia, but Fitzpatrick blocked Maodo Lo’s layup attempt and corralled the rebound. At the other end Hass drew a foul on a hard drive to the basket and made both free throws to tie the game at 50 with 2:06 to play. Hass then rebounded a contested layup by Grant Mullins, and again he drew a foul on a drive to the hoop. His charity tosses with 1:17 to play put the Bison in front for good.
After Lo was off the mark with a 3-pointer, Bucknell drained most of the shot clock, and then Hill beat his man to the bucket for a layup and the foul. After six straight made free throws, Hill missed one, leaving the score at 54-50 with 31 ticks left.
Cohen answered with a layup, and then the door was left open when Ayers made 1 of 2 at the line for a 55-52 lead. Columbia had a chance to make an open layup with about 10 seconds left, but instead the ball was kicked out for a 3-point attempt by Alex Rosenberg, and his contested shot was off the mark. Ayers grabbed his 10th rebound and made two clinching free throws with 3.5 seconds left to clinch it.
“Some people might think that was an ugly game, but I thought it was a beautiful game,” said head coach Dave Paulsen. “I’m really proud of our guys for hanging in there on a night when not everything was going perfectly. A week ago against Princeton we missed some shots and hung our heads. In the last game at Kent State and again tonight we got down in the second half and did not have any panic. That is going to give us confidence going forward that we can win when we are ‘playing ugly.’”
Osetkowski led Columbia (5-5) with 12 points, while Lo and Rosenberg scored 10 each. The Lions already boasted wins over Patriot League teams Army and American, and early in the season they took No. 2 Michigan State right to the wire before dropping a close game. Mullins, Columbia's leading scorer who was coming off a 28-point game against Army, was held to two points on 1-for-7 shooting.
Bucknell shot 39.5 percent on the night and went 4-for-10 from the 3-point arc. Hass and Brackney both went 2-for-3 from long range. The Bison committed only three second-half turnovers and nine total, and they held Columbia to 39.1 percent shooting. The Lions were just 3-for-16 from long range.
Bucknell came into the game ranked seventh nationally in free-throw percentage, although it had been struggling to get to the line. Against Columbia the Bison were 19-for-24.
Bucknell’s only lead of the first half was at 3-2. At that point, an Osetkowski 3-pointer ignited a 14-5 run that gave the Lions their largest lead at 16-8. It was a seven-point margin late in the half when Hass hit a 3-pointer, and the Bison outscored Columbia 7-3 in the final 4:13 to close within 25-22 at the break.
Ayers’ double-double was the third of his career, with the others coming against Dartmouth last season and at Arizona in Bucknell’s victory in the 2012 NIT. The 10 rebounds tied his career high. Ayers also moved past Hall-of-Famer Joe Gallagher and tied Dan Bowen for 18th place on Bucknell’s all-time scoring list with 1,193 points.
“It is gratifying to me to have so many different guys contributing,” said Paulsen. “Ryan Hill was great tonight, and so was Chris Hass driving the ball. Fitzy made big plays for us, and for the second straight game our bench sparked a big run in the second half. This was a great way to go into final exams. We have made progress but still have a lot of room to grow, and I’m confident we will get there.”
The Bison go into the exam break with a 5-4 record, with only three of those nine games being played at home. They will resume competition on Dec. 20 at Marist, and then the following three games will all be played at Sojka Pavilion.