LEWISBURG, Pa - The Bucknell women's basketball team parlayed stifling defense and balanced offensive efforts against American into a 69-57 Patriot League Tournament semifinal victory on Friday evening at Sojka Pavilion. With their school-record 26th win, the Bison advance to the Patriot League Tournament championship game for the fourth time, and first since 2008. This also marks the first time the title game will be played in Lewisburg in the league's 27-year history.
“This was a fantastic team win for us. And really that’s something we talked about since the last American game,” fifth-year Bucknell head coach Aaron Roussell said, referring to one of just two Bison losses in league play this year. “It was probably a little too much one-on-one play then. As a coach you never want to have to lose to learn a lesson, but I thought we did learn a valuable lesson that week against American.”
The title game will be held at Sojka Pavilion on Sunday at 11 a.m. It will air live on CBS Sports Network. The winner receive the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship Tournament. Bucknell will take on second-seeded Navy, which beat third-seeded Army West Point 54-53 on a 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds left in the other semifinal.
Patriot League Player of the Year Claire DeBoer led five Bucknell (26-5) players scoring in double-figures with a game-high 14 points, all coming in the second half. She also added 10 rebounds, recording her seventh double-double of the season and 21st of her career. Sune Swart tallied 13 points, six rebounds, and three blocks, Kaitlin Slagus added 12 points and nine rebounds, and Kyi English had 12 points. Kate Walker led a strong effort from the Bison bench with 10 points. As a team, the Bison shot 47.2 percent from the field (25-for-53) and outrebounded American 40-30 for the contest.
American (15-16) had three players score in double figures, led by 12 points from Maria Liddane. Emily Kinneston played a very strong all-around game with 10 points, seven assists, two steals, a block, and zero turnovers, and Cecily Carl chipped in 10 points. The Eagles were held to 37.5 percent shooting (24-for-64), but committed only five turnovers on the evening.
“For us much as this was a team win on the offensive end for us, that was a great defensive effort for us, too,” Roussell said.
With Kinneston, a Patriot League All-Defensive selection, guarding DeBoer in the first half, the rest of the Bucknell lineup stepped up, especially English. The sophomore, who scored 20 points in a quarterfinal win over American last season, sliced her way through the Eagles’ defense for some highlight-reel buckets and finished the half with eight points. Swart and Slagus added six apiece to help the Bison take a 29-22 lead into the break.
Bucknell led by as much as 15 in the second half when a DeBoer layup extended the lead to 45-30 with 2:34 to play in the third quarter. American refused to go down lightly, cutting its deficit to 47-38 thanks to a steal and fastbreak layup by Liddane at the buzzer.
The Eagles continued to cut into the lead in the fourth quarter, getting as close as six, 49-43, on a 3-pointer by Elina Koskimies with 8:46 to play. Bucknell responded with a 7-0 run with four points from Swart and a 3-point play with a layup and free throw by Slagus to up its lead to double-digits, 56-43. American would only get as close as seven the rest of the way.
Megan McGurk set up Slagus for her 3-point play during that run and set the tempo for the Bucknell offense for most of the game. She finished with six assists while adding five points and four rebounds.
The Bison entered as the top free throw shooting team in the Patriot League and used that skill to maintain its lead in the second half. For the game, they shot 14-of-16 from the stripe, led by DeBoer’s perfect 5-for-5 mark and English’s 4-for-4 line. Swart made three of her four attempts.
Roussell has now guided the two winningest seasons in program history, leading the team to a 25-8 record and WNIT appearance last season, and a 26-5 record so far this year. The Bison will be back in a national postseason tournament this year. Whether it’s the national tournament or the WNIT depends on the outcome of Sunday’s game.
“We’re all in this together,” Roussell said. “These players are going to do whatever it takes to make sure they are prepared and ready to go. The assistant coaches and I are in the same boat. We’re going to do everything we can to put ourselves in position to do something special on Sunday.”
Bucknell upped its school-record home winning streak to 27 games. That ties UCLA for the second longest active streak in the nation. With a win on Sunday, they would be all alone in second on that list, trailing only UConn’s