LEWISBURG, Pa. – Junior forward Zach Thomas punctuated Bucknell’s dominant opening seven minutes with a two-hand jam in traffic, and he finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists in a wire-to-wire 80-60 victory over American on Wednesday night at Sojka Pavilion. Nana Foulland added 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting for the first-place Bison, who won their sixth straight game and improved to 18-6 overall, 10-1 in the Patriot League.
Bucknell’s 200th men’s basketball game in Sojka Pavilion looked like it might be a rout right from the opening tap. The Bison made six straight attempts in a 14-0 run to start the game. The Eagles went 0-for-6 with three turnovers in that span, before finally getting on the board with a Lonnie Rivera layup 4:50 into the contest.
Thomas answered that bucket with a drive down the right alley for the flush, and D.J. MacLeay followed with a put-back to make it 18-2. The Bison would lead by as many as 18 in the first half after Kimbal Mackenzie’s 3-pointer stretched it to 33-15.
“I thought we came out with great purpose and energy,” said head coach Nathan Davis of the productive start. “We were able to find open lanes and get easy baskets, and we really fed off getting stops defensively. We got a lot of deflections and made them take tough, contested shots.”
American outscored Bucknell 14-5 over an eight-minute juncture early in the second half, closing within eight at 50-42 on a pair of Matt Cimino free throws. The teams traded baskets for a few trips, then the Bison ran the lead back out again with a 9-0 run.
Senior John Azzinaro was the catalyst in that surge. First he drove baseline and picked out Thomas in the opposite corner for a 3-pointer. Then a beautiful sequence of ball-movement resulted in an open 3-ball for Azzinaro near the top of the key that made it a 63-46 game with 6:30 to play.
Azzinaro went 4-for-4 from 3-point range for a season-high 12 points, his second double-digit scoring effort in his last three games.
Fellow senior MacLeay hustled for steals on two straight possessions, both of which led to buckets. The latter resulted in a transition layup for Thomas and a commanding 70-48 lead. The margin bulged to as many as 25 (80-55) after Azzinaro’s fourth and final trey of the night with 59 seconds remaining.
“We are in a good place right now as a team,” said Davis. “We have 12 guys who can contribute, and I think we have improved steadily over the course of the season, which is what you want to see. It all starts with our leadership. Our veteran guys are playing with great purpose, and the whole group is playing together. We need to continue to work hard and get better every day.”
The Bison shot a season-high 61.2 percent from the field, their eighth game in the last 10 at 50 percent or better. Bucknell was 30-for-49 from the field, 8-for-18 from the 3-point arc and 12-for-20 from the foul line.
Mackenzie and Stephen Brown tallied eight points apiece, with Brown adding a game-high seven assists. The two seniors, Azzinaro and MacLeay, combined to go 6-for-6 from the field. Azzinaro’s 12 points game in 10 minutes of action, while MacLeay notched four points, five rebounds, two steals and a block in nine minutes.
Sa’eed Nelson led American (5-17, 2-9 PL) with 14 points and three steals. The Eagles shot 42.9 percent overall, including 3-for-12 from long distance.
All six of the verdicts in this current six-game winning streak have been by double figures, which is one shy of a school record. Bucknell has recorded four seven-game winning streaks where all the wins came by 10 or more points, most recently in 1992-93. The other three came between 1899 and 1907.
Bucknell temporarily moved 2.5 games up on the rest of the Patriot League, although either Boston University or Navy will make up that half-game Thursday night when the two teams meet in Boston. The Terriers and Midshipmen are both 7-3 in league play.
Fourth-place Lehigh fell into a three-way tie with Loyola and Holy Cross at 6-5 after the Greyhounds pulled out a two-point win over the Mountain Hawks on Wednesday night.
Bucknell’s 10-1 league start is its best since 2011-12.
The Bison are now off until Monday, when they host Holy Cross at 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.