LEWISBURG, Pa. – Junior forward Zach Thomas led a first-half 3-point barrage and scored a career-high 27 points, sparking red-hot Bucknell to an 82-68 victory over Holy Cross at Sojka Pavilion on Monday night. Sophomore guard Kimbal Mackenzie added 17 points and a career-high-tying seven assists with no turnovers for the Bison, who tied a school record by winning seven straight games all by double digits.
The victory padded Bucknell’s cushion atop the Patriot League standings to a full three games. Now 19-6 overall and 11-1 in the conference, the Bison gained ground on Navy and Boston University, who are both 8-4. Holy Cross (12-13, 6-6 PL) dropped into a tie for sixth place.
Bucknell had another strong opening stanza, shooting 62.5 percent (15-24) on its way to a 48-33 halftime lead. Thomas hit all four of his 3-pointers in the first half – two of them coming from well beyond the arc -- and the team shot 9 of 16 from long distance against the Crusaders’ 1-3-1 zone defense. For the game, the Bison also added 14 fast-break points, many of which came off their 10 steals.
“I thought we came out with great intensity and purpose,” said head coach Nathan Davis. “The 1-3-1 zone is hard to replicate in practice, because we don’t play it and Holy Cross has good length in the middle of the zone, which resulted in a few too many turnovers. We just want to take good shots. Yes we took a lot of threes in the first half, but we were able to get the ball inside-out and step into the shots. Those are good looks.”
Holy Cross received nearly all of its scoring from four players. Robert Champion led the Crusaders with 19 points, while Malachi Alexander and Patrick Benzan each added 15. Karl Charles had 11 with seven assists.
Bucknell jumped out to a 13-4 lead, with Thomas having a hand in all 13 points. He scored eight on his own and also assisted on a Mackenzie trey and a D.J. MacLeay layup. A three by Bruce Moore made it 16-6, but the Crusaders used a handful of layups to pull as close as four on a couple of occasions.
It was 20-16 near the eight-minute mark, when Thomas sparked a decisive run with two bombs from near the Bison logo at center court. Bruce Moore hit his second trey of the half to push the lead back into double figures at 31-20, and later Mackenzie finished a fastbreak layup through contact for a 3-point play and a 14-point lead.
Back-to-back triples by Stephen Brown and Mackenzie made it 47-29, and the Bison took a 48-33 lead to the locker room.
It was all Bison over the first 11 minutes of the second half. John Azzinaro scored five points in 17 seconds, first hitting a right-wing 3-pointer and then picking off a pass and taking it in for a fastbreak layup and a 64-41 margin.
Bucknell came in with three straight wins by 20 points or more for the first time since 1928. The last time the team won four in a row by 20-plus was all the way back in 1907. It looked like that might happen when the Bison went up by 24 with just over nine minutes to play, but they went cold down the stretch and Holy Cross was able to get as close as 13.
The seven game winning streak is Bucknell’s longest since 2012-13. The Bison have won seven straight, all coming by 10 or more points, four times previously. The last was in 1992-93, and the first three such streaks all came between 1899 and 1907.
Bucknell shot an even 50 percent from the field, its ninth time in the last 11 games hitting at least 50 percent. The Bison finished 13-for-30 (.433) from 3-point range and 19-for-24 (.792) from the foul line.
Holy Cross shot 48.2 percent overall, including 5-for-17 (.294) from the arc. The Crusaders were 9-for-12 from the foul line. Holy Cross came in leading the Patriot League in steals with 9.2 per game, and it added 14 more in this one.
Bucknell outrebounded Holy Cross 30-26, with Nana Foulland leading the way with a game-high eight boards.
The Bison have reached the 19-win mark for the 15th time in school history and fifth time in the last seven years.
Bucknell now has a quick turnaround before traveling to Lehigh on Wednesday night. The Mountain Hawks are responsible for Bucknell’s only conference loss thus far. Lehigh won 82-71 at Sojka Pavilion on Jan. 11.