WASHINGTON, D.C. – Kimbal Mackenzie scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half and keyed a terrific finish for Bucknell at the free-throw line, helping the Bison rally past American 69-60 on Thursday night at Bender Arena. The victory gave Bucknell a 3-0 start in Patriot League play and pushed its overall record to 11-5.
Zach Thomas scored 16 points, right on his season average, and Nana Foulland overcame foul trouble to finish with 11 points. Point guard Stephen Brown added nine points, a game-high seven rebounds, and four assists for the Bison, who outscored American 25-10 over an eight-minute stretch in latter part of the second half to flip a five-point deficit into a 10-point lead.
The Bison conceded only three field goals in that span and held the Eagles to 40-percent shooting on the night. Head coach Nathan Davis credited improved defense and ball protection for the second-half comeback.
“We did a much better job in the second half of not turning it over against their ball pressure, which allowed us to get the shots we wanted to get,” said Davis, whose team shot 55.0 percent for the game and had only one turnover in the final 16 minutes after registering 15 in the first 24. “We also defended much better late in the game. They stopped getting to the rim and stopped getting open 3-pointers off of kickouts. They want to use the entire shot clock and are hard to defend. I thought we had terrific energy and discipline defensively at a key time in the game.”
Bucknell trailed 30-26 at the half and 41-36 at the 10-minute mark, then controlled play the rest of the way. Thomas’s 3-pointer at the 7:30 mark tied the game at 43, and then coming out of a media timeout freshman Bruce Moore hit two free throws to give the Bison its first lead since 8-7.
Charlie Jones put American back on top with a 3-pointer, but Thomas hit another trey on the next possession to give the Bison the lead for good. After Jones missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Mackenzie fed Foulland for a jam.
A key exchange occurred around the 5-minute mark, after Brown drove to the bucket to give the Bison a 52-48 lead. Thanks to an offensive rebound, Bucknell then had to defend two full shot clocks and got the stop when Mackenzie was fouled on a box-out. He made both free throws, and the Bison had a multi-possession lead the rest of the way.
Mackenzie’s 3-point play driving to the basket pushed it to a nine-point game at 58-49 with 3:16 left, and the Bison would lead by as many as 10 in the closing stretch.
American made a few tough shots in the lane in the lane to force Bucknell to win it from the free-throw line, and the Bison responded by hitting their final 10 charity tosses and 17 of their last 19.
Mackenzie finished 11-for-11 from the foul line, making him the first Bison to have a perfect night with at least 10 attempts since Chris Hass went 12-for-12 against American last year in Sojka Pavilion.
Bucknell avenged last season’s loss in Bender Arena and improved to 3-0 in league play for the 10th time in the Patriot League era, dating back to 1990-91. In that loss in D.C. last season, the Bison went 0-for-15 from 3-point range, their first game without a triple since 2004. Bucknell missed its first five attempts tonight before Mackenzie finally connected at the 12:25 mark of the second half.
While the two Thomas 3-pointers later on were critical, the Bison did not rely on perimeter shots in this one. They scored 36 points in the paint and a season-high 22 (in 31 attempts) at the foul line. The 55-percent shooting from the field was also the best of the campaign.
American was just 5-for-19 from the arc, including 2-for-12 in the second half. The Eagles went 11-for-15 from the foul line one game after making 13 of 31 in an overtime victory at Colgate.
Freshman Sa’eed Nelson paced American (4-10, 1-2 PL) with 18 points. Lonnie Rivera came off the bench to score 15, and Jones added 10. Like Foulland, American center Mark Gasperini also battled foul trouble and finished with nine points in 17 minutes.
Bucknell scored on its first three possessions of the night and led 6-0 right out of the gates, but American answered with a 13-2 run to go up 13-8.
Brown threw an alley-oop pass to Foulland, and then Brown finished a fastbreak layup after a Nate Sestina blocked shot, pulling the Bison within 13-12. But moments later Foulland was called for a push while posting up on the offensive end, and he sat for the final 10 minutes of the half.
Bucknell ended the half with a Thomas layup, followed by another Sestina swat, and trailed 30-26 at intermission.Bucknell, which is tied for first in the Patriot League with Boston University, travels to Holy Cross on Sunday at 1 p.m.