LEWISBURG, Pa. – On the ropes early in the game after a quick start by Holy Cross, the Bucknell men’s basketball squad rallied for a hard-fought 61-57 victory over the Crusaders on Saturday afternoon at Sojka Pavilion. Ben Brackney scored 13 points and the bench combined for 21 points for the Bison, who won their third game in a row to improve to 8-7 overall and 2-1 in the Patriot League.
Malcolm Miller scored 19 points and Justin Burrell added 13 for the Crusaders (7-9, 1-3), who were flying early in the game and led by as many as 13 at 26-13 after Anthony Thompson’s 3-pointer with 6:07 left in the first half.
Brackney, who was coming off a career-high 25-point performance at Lafayette on Wedensday, answered the Thompson trey with one of his own, and that ignited a 13-0 run for Bucknell that got the game tied at 26. Dave Dudzinski snapped Holy Cross scoreless drought at 5:22 with a 3-pointer, but Brackney was fouled shooting a three and made all three free throws to tie the game at 29 at the half.
“That was a big mental hurdle to get the game tied at halftime,” said head coach Dave Paulsen. “It was not a good start, and Holy Cross certainly had a lot to do with that, but our guys never panicked.”
Five straight points by Cameron Ayers followed by a Chris Hass layup gave Bucknell the first seven points of the second half, but Holy Cross stormed back with nine in a row, with Malachi Alexander’s steal and breakaway jam putting the Crusaders back in front. It was game on from there, as neither team led by more than a single possession until Ayers made it a four-point game with two free throws with nine-tenths of a second to play.
Burrell’s jumper with 4:34 remaining gave Holy Cross a 55-52 lead. Steven Kaspar picked up one of his six assists with a feed to Brian Fitzpatrick for a layup, and after two defensive stops Hass scored in the lane to give the Bison the lead for good with 2:26 left.
With 1:28 to play Eric Green was fouled while shooting, but he missed both free-throw attempts. Holy Cross scrambled for the rebound – one of their 14 offensive boards in the game – and earned another possession down by just one. But after a timeout, Burrell and Miller collided on a handoff, resulting in a traveling violation.
Ryan Frazier then hit one of the biggest shots of the night, a mid-range jumper that pushed the Bucknell lead back to three at 58-55 with 42 seconds remaining. Burrell missed a three at the other end, but Miller grabbed another offensive rebound, leading to two made free throws by Dudzinski.
Bucknell broke the Crusaders’ full-court press and Ryan Hill was fouled crossing half-court. Hill made the front end of a 1-and-1 but missed the second, leaving the differential at two points. Burrell had a look at a potential winning 3-pointer from deep on the right wing, but it was off the mark and this time Ayers pulled down the rebound for Bucknell. The senior captain drained the two clinching free throws with less than a second left, keeping the Bison one game off the lead in the Patriot League.
Ayers finished with 10 points and Hass had nine for the Bison, who shot 44.9 percent and went 4-for-14 from 3-point range one game after making 12 of 15 at Lafayette. A big key for Bucknell was a 13-for-15 performance at the foul line while limiting Holy Cross to a 4-for-8 showing at the line.
Bucknell had an uncharacteristic 12 turnovers, eight of which came off Holy Cross steals. The Crusaders turned those 12 miscues into 16 points. The Bison entered the game ranked seven nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, but they allowed a season-high 14 offensive rebounds in this one. Bucknell had conceded only 14 offensive boards in the previous three games combined.
Led by eight points from Frazier and seven from Hill, Bucknell’s bench outscored Holy Cross’ 21-2. Defensively, the Bison held the Crusaders to 38.7 percent shooting, including a 5-for-17 ledger from 3-point distance. They held Dudzinski, Holy Cross' leading scorer, to seven points on 2-for-9 shooting.
“Any win is to be cherished, especially in league play,” said Paulsen. “Our defensive rebounding was not good today, and we will get after that in practice, but it is always better to teach from a win. I’m proud of our guys for battling back and finding a way to grind out a win over a very athletic Holy Cross team.”The Bison are now 80-16 against Patriot League foes in Sojka Pavilion, but they will play their next two contests away from home against the service academies. Bucknell will be at Navy on Wednesday at 7 p.m. and at Army next Sunday at 3 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.