LEWISBURG, Pa. – Kyle Wilson scored all of Army’s points in a game-ending 9-1 run, including the go-ahead jumper with 12.5 seconds left, sending the fifth-seeded Black Knights to a 72-71 victory over No. 4 Bucknell in a hotly contested Patriot League Tournament quarterfinal matchup on Wednesday night at Sojka Pavilion. Wilson finished with a game-high 19 points, overshadowing a big night from Bison sophomore Chris Hass, who logged 18 points and seven rebounds.
Hass’ running bank shot gave Bucknell a 70-63 lead just inside three minutes to play. Patriot League Player of the Year Cameron Ayers (12 points) had an open look at a 3-pointer from the left wing that would have stretched the lead to 10, but the shot went halfway down and spun out. Wilson scored in the lane at the other end, and then Bucknell’s Ryan Frazier was called for a foul when he collided with an Army player as the Bison were trying to solve the Black Knights’ full-court press.
Wilson scored again to make it 70-67, and then Tanner Omlid jumped a passing lane for his sixth steal of the night. Omlid’s fastbreak layup attempt fell off the rim, but Tanner Plomb grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked it out to Wilson for a game-tying 3-pointer with 1:02 to play.
At the other end, Brian Fitzpatrick pulled down an offensive rebound and was fouled going back up with 34 seconds left. Fitzpatrick made the first free throw to break the tie, but he missed the second. After a timeout, Wilson tried to drive in from the left side, got cut off, and then hit a tough fadeaway shot with a hand in his face with 12.5 seconds left.
With his team now trailing by one, John Azzinaro drove into the lane where his pass intended for Fitzpatrick on the low block was defected. Azzinaro recovered the loose ball and passed to Hass in the deep right corner, but Hass’ contested, off-balance shot bounced off the front iron and would not fall.
The Bison entered the postseason on a six-game winning streak, but the loss dropped them to 16-14 on the season. This was only the sixth time in the 24-year history of the Patriot League Tournament that Bucknell fell in the quarterfinal round.
Army improved to 15-15 and will face top-seeded Boston University in the semifinals on Saturday. No. 2 American will host No. 3 Holy Cross in the other semifinal.
This was a game of wild momentum shifts, and Bucknell led 39-36 at the end of a fast-paced and well-played first half. The Bison jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead, but Army started the game 8-for-10 from the field and 5-for-7 from 3-point range and went up 21-10 after a 15-1 run.
An Ayers trey ended the spurt, and then Hass canned three straight 3-pointers and Cory Starkey drove the baseline for a slam dunk to cap an 11-2 run that brought the Bison within 30-28.
Bucknell went back ahead on a Ryan Frazier 3-pointer with 1:47 left, and Starkey’s free throw gave the Bison a three-point cushion at intermission.
Azzinaro hit a pair of 3-pointers just over a minute apart early in the second half, the latter stretching Bucknell’s lead to eight at 51-43. Army twice closed within a single point before the Bison answered with its own flurry. Dylan Cox missed a free throw going for a 3-point play that would have tied the game with 4:40 left, and then Fitzpatrick scored four straight points and Hass scored on the drive to make it 70-63 with 2:57 to go, but that would be Bucknell’s final field goal of the night.
Rebounding was a major factor in Bucknell’s recent six-game winning streak, and the Bison again controlled the glass 42-27, including 16 offensive boards. Fitzpatrick and forward Dom Hoffman (10 points) combined for nine offensive caroms.
But offsetting the rebounding margin were struggles with turnovers and at the free-throw line, two areas where Bucknell is normally solid. The Bison entered the game ranked 19th nationally in free-throw percentage and 31st in fewest turnovers, but they committed 17 miscues, six of which were a result of Omlid steals, and they made just 11 of 19 at the charity stripe.
Bucknell was 8-for-16 from 3-point range and shot 45.6 percent overall. Army finished at 48.3 percent, including a stellar 11-for-23 showing from the arc. Army also struggled at the foul line, making just 3 of 9.
The heartbreaking loss marked the end of the line for the winningest senior class in Bucknell basketball history. Ayers, Fitzpatrick, Ben Brackney and Ryan Hill closed out their careers with a record 94 wins over the last four seasons.
Ayers finished his brilliant career with 1,526 points. He moved past Hall-of-Famer Mike Joseph on Wednesday and will finish in eighth place on Bucknell’s all-time scoring list. Ayers also made his 200th career 3-pointer, and with 201 treys he ranks fifth in program history in that category.