LEWISBURG, Pa. – Rade Joksimovic scored a game-tying goal with 16 seconds left in regulation to help the Bucknell men’s water polo team overcome a four-goal deficit in the final quarter of Saturday’s NCAA game at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool and send the contest to overtime, but the Crimson’s Harry Tafur scored the game-winning goal just under two minutes into the sudden victory overtime period to advance Harvard in the NCAA Championship bracket with a 13-12 victory over the Bison.
It was an entertaining game between the two teams that were both conference champions and entered the game with a combined 48-10 record. The contest featured a number of swings in score as Bucknell (23-5) scored four of the game’s first five goals, while Harvard (26-6) answered with a 9-2 run. The Bison then scored the final four goals in regulation to send the game to overtime.
Joksimovic’s game-tying goal at the end of regulation was impressive. The Bison trailed 10-9 and had what was likely their final possession of the game if they did not score. Joksimovic attempted a shot from the right wing that was saved, but it bounced right back to him and he fired again, converting this time and evening the score at 10-10.
Bucknell, which was making its first NCAA appearance since 1985, scored twice in the first three-minute overtime period as Joksimovic converted his second penalty shot and Mark Djordjevic scored a six-on-five goal, his fourth tally of the game.
Harvard evened the score at 12-12 with 55 seconds remaining in the second overtime period and the contest went to sudden victory.
The Crimson held the Bison scoreless on two possessions in the sudden victory overtime period, including stopping one six-on-five opportunity. Harvard’s Tafur then scored the winning goal on a counter attack after a long pass by goalie Anthony Ridgley.
Bucknell drew 13 ejections in the contest, including six by Jeff Hagen, but was able to convert just 3 of 11 times in six-on-five opportunities. Harvard drew just five ejections and was 2-for-4 in man-up situations.
Joksimovic scored a game-high six goals for Bucknell, pushing his season total to 154, tying him for second on the program’s single-season list. His goal midway through the second period staked the Bison to an early 4-1 advantage, but Bucknell scored just twice over the next 13:14 as Harvard opened up a 10-6 edge.
Sean Daley, who totaled one goal and three assists, got the comeback started with a goal with 6:26 left in the fourth quarter. Djordjevic followed with a goal with 4:43 to play following a Harvard turnover, while Joksimovic cut it to 10-9 with 3:33 to play following a steal by Nate Hunter.
Harvard won six of the seven sprints in the game, including the one to begin the sudden victory overtime period.
Charlie Niehaus posted 11 saves on Saturday for Bucknell, including some key stops in overtime after playing only 10 minutes in a regular-season loss to Harvard. It was the 16th double-figure save performance of the season for Niehaus, who ranks sixth on the school’s single-season saves list (287).
Bucknell, which entered the game ranked 12th nationally, finished its finest season in recent memory with 23 victories, its most since 1985. The Bison won nine games in a row on two occasions.
Joksimovic, the conference Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, finished his freshman campaign with 154 goals and 184 points. With his three assists on Saturday, Daley wrapped up his career with 189, placing him fourth on the program’s all-time list.
Harvard, which is ranked 10th nationally, will now play UC Davis at the University of California’s Spieker Aquatics Center on Thursday.
BUCKNELL 2 2 2 4 2 0 0 -12
HARVARD 1 3 5 1 1 1 1 -13
Goals: Joksimovic (6), Djordjevic (4), Daley, Hunter.
Assists: Daley (3), Babic, Joksimovic, Niehaus.
Ejections Drawn: Hagen (6), Hunter (2), Daley (2), Stupp, Babic, Joksimovic.
Steals: Daley (5), Joksimovic (4), Hunter (3), Stupp, Moore, Hagen.
Saves: Niehaus (11 svs., 13 ga., 39:53 min.).
Sprints: Stupp (1-3), Joksimovic (0-3), Daley (0-1).
Bucknell Record: 23-5.