LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Zach Thomas scored 22 points, Nana Foulland had 18 on 9-for-10 shooting, and the Bucknell men’s basketball team put the finishing touches on a 3-1 road swing with a hard-fought 75-63 victory over Northern Colorado on Friday afternoon at the Orleans Arena. Now 5-2 on the season and winners of three straight games, the Bison were declared champions of the “upper division” of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational.
This grueling trip saw Bucknell play four games in three different time zones against a variety of styles of play. After a loss to Butler to start the holiday week, the Bison responded with consecutive wins over Vanderbilt, Norfolk State and Northern Colorado.
Friday’s win over the Bears was a challenge against a good team that led Arizona in the second half on Monday before succumbing to the Wildcats. Northern Colorado and high-scoring guard Jordan Davis routed Sacred Heart on Thursday, and they held a six-point lead over the Bison with 10:24 to play before Bucknell finished the game on a 24-6 run.
“I’m really proud of our guys for the way they responded to the Butler loss, coming back to get three good wins,” said head coach Nathan Davis. “It took a tremendous amount of toughness and attention to detail to do that. Watching Northern Colorado on tape and then in person yesterday, we knew this was going to be a big challenge. They have some very talented players. It was great to get the two games here in Las Vegas, and now we can’t wait to get back in front of our home fans on Wednesday against Richmond, another very talented team.”
Bucknell and Northern Colorado (2-4) engaged in a back-and-forth thriller for much of the day. The Bison had trouble containing Davis, who scored 28 points and has now scored 20 or more in every game this season. Trying to take over the game, Davis scored 15 points in the first 9:36 of the second half. His reverse layup with 10:24 to go gave the Bears a 57-51 lead.
But the Bison coaching staff changed up the ball-screen defense, and Northern Colorado scored only six more points the rest of the way. Davis’ last bucket came at the 7:13 mark, snapping an 8-0 Bison run and tying the game at 59.
Brown’s pull-up from the left elbow broke the 59-all tie and gave the Bison the lead for good with 6:02 left. Thomas followed with a layup, and after a UNC free throw, Brown got all the way to the rim for a tough lefty finish at the end of the shot clock.
It was still a 65-62 game inside three minutes to go when Brown kicked a pass out to Sestina for a left-wing triple that doubled the lead to six. For the second time in the half, Nate Jones pulled down an offensive rebound that led directly to a bucket.
With 2:11 to go, Jones drove and kicked out to Brown, who rattled home a three from the top of the key to make it 71-63. Davis was called for travelling – his seventh turnover of the night – and then the Bison closed it out with four free throws from Thomas and Kimbal Mackenzie in the final 1:16.
In that decisive final 10 minutes, Northern Colorado shot 2-for-13 from the field, 2-for-5 from the foul line, and had three turnovers. Meanwhile, the Bison were converting at a 9-for-12 clip at the other end.
There were five ties and three lead changes in the first half. Both teams were hot from long range early. In fact, both started 3-for-3 from the arc. Bucknell went up 12-6 after a Stephen Brown triple, but then the Bears’ next three buckets all came from downtown, and they took a 21-16 lead with a 15-4 run.
It was still a five-point game at 25-20 when Thomas and Matt O'Reilly connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Bison back in front. Bucknell later scored six straight points to break a 31-all tie, with Thomas’ blocked shot at one end leading to an O’Reilly transition 3-pointer at the other end.
Bucknell shot an even 50 percent in both halves and finished 28-for-56 on the day. After the hot start from long range, the Bison finished 8-for-23 from the arc, and they were 11-for-16 at the foul line.
Brown was Bucknell’s third double-digit scorer with 12 points to go with six assists. Mackenzie and Sestina added seven points each for the Bison, who outrebounded the Bears 32-28.
D.J. Miles tallied 16 points, giving Northern Colorado’s starting backcourt of Davis and Miles 44 of the team’s 63 points. No other player had more than five. After shooting 62.5 percent in the first half, the Bears shot 37.0 percent in the second and finished at 49.0 percent for the day.
Foulland, who was named to the All-Tournament Team after the game, is now shooting 71.2 percent (47-66) on the season. His 18 points came in only 24 minutes, as he was hit with two early fouls and spent most of the first half on the bench.
Thomas recorded his fifth career 20-point game, and he upped his team-best season scoring average to 17.9 points per game.
The Bison will be back home on Wednesday to face Richmond at Sojka Pavilion at 7 p.m. the game will be televised locally on WQMY-TV as well as online on the Patriot League Network at PatriotLeague.TV.