LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. – Bucknell erased a 16-point deficit while opening the 2017-18 women’s basketball season with a 76-71 win at Rider in a non-conference game Friday night at Alumni Gymnasium. Junior Kaitlyn Slagus recorded her 14th career double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and was joined in double-digit scoring by junior Kyi English (17), junior Kate Walker (12), and freshman Ellie Mack (12).
The Bison overcame a turnover-plagued first half and foul trouble from two of its top players to win its season opener for the third consecutive season. It was a solid win for a team that has three new starters in the lineup, beating a Rider team that won 24 games and qualified for the WNIT last year.
Trailing 56-50 after three quarters, Bucknell scored 26 points in the fourth quarter while holding Rider to just 15. A runner by freshman Gia Hayes put the Bison up 61-60 with 5:16 to play, giving them their first lead since being up 7-6 with 3:16 left in the opening quarter. After a pair of free throws at the other end, English scored on a layup to give the Bison a 63-62 lead, and they didn’t trail the rest of the way.
Freshman Tessa Brugler came up big while playing 18 minutes in her collegiate debut, finishing with eight rebounds, including six on the offensive end, and five points. She helped the Bison post a 46-30 advantage on the boards. Senior Catherine Romaine had five rebounds, as did Mack, who was also making her collegiate debut after missing her freshman season with an injury.
English scored 13 of her 17 points in the second half. For the game, she was 10-of-13 from the line and led the team with six assists. Walker was 4-of-5 from the field while scoring nine points in the second half.
“That was an impressive win for us,” Bucknell head coach Aaron Roussell said. “To overcome 28 turnovers, lots of foul trouble to key players, and a 16-point deficit, all on the road against a team that made the postseason last year is pretty incredible.”
Bucknell dug itself into a big hole with a 23-9 deficit after one quarter and saw Rider’s lead grow to 16 with a jumper by Lexi Posset early in the second quarter, but started to chip away from there. The Bison went on to out-score the Broncs 18-13 in the second quarter to cut the lead to single-digits, 36-27, at the half.
The Bison struggled to get the ball into the post in the first half, which played a big part in the team’s 17 turnovers through the first two quarters. Still, Slagus managed to get nine points on 3-of-4 shooting and a 3-of-3 mark from the line while also adding six rebounds.
As a team, free throw shooting helped Bucknell stay within striking distance in the first half as it shot 10-of-13 from the stripe. Romaine made both of her attempts, while Hayes converted on three of her four attempts.
Despite playing most of the third quarter without two starters – Walker and Slagus – with foul trouble, Bucknell out-scored Rider 23-20 to cut the deficit to six, 56-50. Freshman Abby Kapp had a key bucket, beating the buzzer with a runner in the lane.
The fouls came during a tough stretch for the Bison, including a five-point swing when, following a bucket by the Broncs, Slagus was whistled for her third foul when she and an opponent collided while she was reaching up to get the ball as it came through the net. The Broncs took advantage of the extra possession with a 3-pointer by Stella Johnson to go up 44-29 with 9:05 left in the quarter.
Walker scored five straight points for the Bison to bring them within 10, 54-44, but was then whistled for two fouls, her third and fourth of the game, within a span of eight seconds. A young Bucknell lineup went on to out-score Rider 16-12 in the final 7:50 of the quarter.
“It was about as shaky of a first half as you could imagine, but our players never quit,” Roussell said. “We kept attacking and beating at the door until we finally got the lead later in the game. I thought our key returners were huge down the stretch, but a major key was the bench keeping us in it and starting the comeback.”
Despite lots of new faces, Bucknell did something it’s been known to do over the past four seasons; come back after being down double-digits. Friday’s come-from-behind win marked the 14th time the Bison have erased a double-digit deficit dating back to the 2013-14 season.
“We learned a lot about this group tonight, and we were able to get the win in the process,” Roussell said.
Bucknell welcomes Akron to Sojka Pavilion on Sunday at 2 p.m. Prior to the game, two banners will be unveiled, one for winning the 2017 Patriot League title and another for the program’s third appearance in the NCAA Tournament.