LEWISBURG, Pa. – Chris Hass led four Bucknell players in double figures with 15 points, Steven Kaspar had 10 assists, nine rebounds and four steals at the point, and the bench provided a major lift as the Bison powered past Navy 78-57 on Wednesday night at Sojka Pavilion. Bucknell snapped a two-game losing streak, and with Lehigh’s loss at American, the Bison moved back into a tie for fifth place in the Patriot League standings.
With Ben Brackney and D.J. MacLeay unavailable due to injuries, Dom Hoffman made his first start for the Bison since the season opener at Stanford, and he finished with 14 points and eight rebounds. That also paved the way for reserve frontcourt players Cory Starkey and Ben Oberfeld to receive extended minutes, and both shined. The freshman Oberfeld logged six points, two rebounds and a blocked shot in 12 minutes, while Starkey had two points, four rebounds, two assists and three steals in 15 minutes.
Brian Fitzpatrick added 14 points and seven rebounds, and Cameron Ayers tacked on 13 points. After coming off the bench in the last three games, Kaspar returned to the starting lineup and played a terrific floor game. His 10 assists tied his career high, set last month in Bucknell’s one-point loss at Navy. He tallied eight of those assists in the first half alone as Bucknell ran out to a 44-21 halftime lead, and Kaspar also had four of Bucknell’s season-high 14 steals.
That steal total was the team’s highest since March 6, 2006, when the Bison came up with a Sojka Pavilion-record 15 thefts in a Patriot League Tournament win over Army. Bucknell also had 16 offensive rebounds, which led to a 24-10 margin in second-chance points, and had 16 assists with only eight turnovers.
“We got knocked to the mat on Sunday at Holy Cross, so this was a big test for our guys to see how we would respond,” said head coach Dave Paulsen, who pulled into a tie for third with Hall-of-Famer Malcolm Musser on Bucknell’s all-time wins list with 110. “I thought we had great energy, and it was great to see a lot of guys who have been doing good things in practice get a chance tonight. They had to get their sea legs under them, but they were terrific. Ben Oberfeld and Cory Starkey in particular did a real nice job, and along with Dom Hoffman they gave us a little bit more of a physical presence.”
Brandon Venturini hit five 3-pointers and scored 15 points to lead Navy (8-16, 3-10), which was coming in off a blowout win on the road over arch-rival Army. Venturini’s first trey of the night gave Navy a 9-8 lead, but Ayers answered with a three of his own, and the Bison would never trail again. In fact, the Bison outscored Navy 36-12 over the final 14:58 of the half.
Starkey turned a steal into a fastbreak layup and Hoffman scored on a put-back and a baseline jumper to make it a double-digit lead for the first time at 23-12. Fitzpatrick scored five straight Bucknell points in one stretch, and later in the half Hass canned two 3-pointers, Ayers hit a trey and Hoffman canned two more shots to give him 14 points at the half.
Navy did not piece together consecutive points at all in the first half, but had a couple of runs in the second. The Midshipmen scored the first six points of the second half before Fitzpatrick converted a 3-point play. After a Venturini triple, Bucknell scored 11 points in a row, highlighted by two inside buckets by Oberfeld and a drive to the rim by Kaspar. That gave the Bison their largest lead of the season, 28 points at 58-30 with 14:20 to play.
Navy hit three consecutive 3-pointers as part of an 11-0 run to pull within 58-41, but Ayers drained a right-corner 3-pointer to ignite a 13-2 run that pushed the margin all the way back up to 28 at 71-43 with 6:43 to play.
Navy shot 53.8 percent in the second half after shooting just 33.3 percent in the opening 20 minutes. The Midshipmen shot 44.0 percent overall, with 11 of their 22 field goals coming from behind the arc. Navy was just 2-for-8 from the foul line.
Bucknell went 8-for-14 from 3-point range and shot 46.2 percent overall. The Bison forced 18 turnovers and finished with a 38-27 edge on the glass.
This was Bucknell’s sixth straight win over Navy at Sojka Pavilion, and the Bison pulled within 35-34 in the all-time series.
The Bison are back in action on Saturday against Army at 7 p.m. at Sojka Pavilion. Prior to the game the team will celebrate Senior Day, and at halftime the 1988-89 team will be honored 25 years after its East Coast Conference championship and NCAA Tournament appearance.