NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In the mid-2000s, the Bucknell men’s basketball team developed a reputation for beating major-conference opponents. The tradition continued Monday night at Memorial Gym, as the Bison rallied past Vanderbilt 75-72 for their first win over a Southeastern Conference opponent since the 2006 NCAA Tournament against Arkansas.
It was a total team effort, with Bucknell’s junior class leading the way. Forward Zach Thomas scored 17 points, center Nana Foulland had a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, and point guard Stephen Brown turned in his best performance of the season with 15 points.
Senior D.J. MacLeay came off the bench to hit two huge 3-pointers in an 8-0 run that flipped a one-point deficit into a seven-point lead midway through the second half. The Bison then went nearly seven minutes without scoring, but they stood tall on the defensive end and never fell behind. Brown hit a huge 18-footer to break a 65-65 tie with 2:30 left, and Foulland followed with a lefty hook in the lane.
The Bison led the rest of the way thanks to 6-for-6 shooting at the foul line in the final 32 seconds, all coming with the team leading by one point at the time. Foulland hit a pair, and Kimbal Mackenzie went a clutch 4-for-4.
The Bison (3-2) notched their first road win of the season after away losses to Wake Forest and Butler, and this was a nice bounce-back from a 26-point loss to Butler on Saturday to start off the four-game road trip that is part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational.
“We were all disappointed with the way things went against Butler,” said head coach Nathan Davis. We didn’t play together or with poise that night. This was a credit to our guys and the leadership on our team for the way we bounced back tonight. We never pouted or hung our heads. We just got back to work and played very good team basketball tonight.”
Bucknell shot 50.9 percent overall, including 8-for-19 from 3-point distance (5-10 in the second half). The Bison also went 13-for-17 from the foul line and outrebounded the Commodores 33-27. Vandy shot 46.8 percent overall after an 8-for-9 start. They were 7-for-18 from the arc and 7-for-9 from the free-throw line.
Bucknell fought off the quick start from the Commodores and finished the first half on a 17-4 run to go up 40-38 at the half. Both teams came out of the locker room hot. Riley Lachance threw up a wild shot in the lane to put Vandy up 47-44 early in the half, but a put-back by Nate Sestina and a trey by Mackenzie off a Sestina assist gave the Bison a 49-47 advantage, one of six second-half lead changes.
Brown canned two triples, but a dunk by Luke Kornet and a layup by Payton Willis gave Vanderbilt a 56-55. MacLeay then wrapped two long bombs around a Thomas layup, giving Bucknell a 63-56 cushion with 10:51 to go.
The Bison survived a 6:53 scoreless drought by holding Vanderbilt scoreless for a span of 4:36 during one stretch at the other end. After Thomas’ layup ended the dry spell, Vandy tied it when top scorer Matthew Fisher-Davis hit a 3-pointer while drawing a foul. Fisher-Davis had not missed a free throw all season at that point (13-13), but he could not finish the 4-point play, leaving the game tied at 65.
Brown then hit his biggest shot of the season, a late-shot –clock jumper to break the tie with 2:30 left. Freshman Avi Toomer, who was terrific off the bench, especially at the defensive end, rebounded a miss by Joe Toye, and Foulland scored at the other end to make it a two-possession lead.
There were more tense moments in the final five seconds. After Mackenzie hit both ends of a 1-and-1 with 12.8 seconds left, Fisher-Davis was fouled shooting a 3-pointer on the right wing. He made the first, but missed the second. He hit the third, and then Mackenzie was quickly fouled with 4.1 ticks left.
Mackenzie again made both, and Toye was off the mark on a potential tying 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded.
It was a rare non-conference home loss for the Commodores, who had been 204-23 against foes from outside the SEC at Memorial Gym since 1990.
Vanderbilt got out to a quick start, hitting eight of its first nine shots (and tipping in the lone miss) to go up 18-9 after only 4:23 of action.
But Bucknell’s second unit settled things down defensively, and the Bison were able to trade baskets until the big run to close the half gave them a 40-38 lead at the break.
Trailing 34-23, Sestina hit a right-wing 3-pointer off a pick-and-pop from Mackenzie. Thomas then drove hard to the lane and drew the third foul on the 7’1” Kornet. He made both free throws, then Brown followed with a pair at the line. Moments later, Brown was slammed to the ground on a fastbreak, resulting in a flagrant-1 foul. He made 1 of 2 at the line, and after Bucknell inbounded, Toomer finished a tough layup off a feed from Mackenzie.
After a Jeff Roberson layup ended a 10-0 run, the Bison got back-to-back buckets from Thomas and Foulland to give them their first lead of the night at 37-36. Thomas hit a trey as the trailer at the top of the key, and Bucknell closed the half with a defensive stop to go up 40-38 at the break.
Bucknell outscored Vanderbilt 14-4 over the final 4:53 of the half after Kornet’s third foul. The Commodores finished the half 8-for-25 from the floor after the 8-for-9 start.
Fisher-Davis finished with a game-high 23 points for Vanderbilt. Kornet added 19 and LaChance 10 points and six assists.
Bucknell’s road trip continues Thursday and Friday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. The Bison will face Norfolk State on Thanksgiving at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. They will then play either Northern Colorado or Sacred Heart on Friday.