LEWISBURG, Pa – Patriot League Player of the Year Zach Thomas logged 27 points and 11 rebounds, and top-seeded Bucknell held off No. 8 Loyola (Md.) 83-78 on Thursday night at Sojka Pavilion in the Patriot League Tournament quarterfinal round. Bucknell, now 23-9 on the season, will host fifth-seeded Boston University in the semifinals on Sunday at 2 p.m. It will be the 21st time in the 28-year history of the Patriot League that the Bison have reached the semis.
Thomas, who went 6-for-11 from the field and 13-for-17 from the foul line, hit the 20-point mark for the 17th time this season, a new school record. Kimbal Mackenzie added 18 points, hitting four 3-pointers, while backcourt-mate Stephen Brown scored 16 points to go along with four assists and two steals in 37 minutes of turnover-free basketball. Nana Foulland also had an excellent all-around game with 14 points, eight rebounds, a career-high five assists, and a season-best five blocked shots.
The Greyhounds (9-22) received a team-high 17 points from Andre Walker, who joined Thomas, Foulland and Brown on the All-Patriot League First Team, He was one of five Loyola players in double figures. Brent Holcombe had 12 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and two steals off the bench. Isaiah Hart and Andrew Kostecka both scored 13 points, and Chuck Champion tallied 12.
“Give Loyola a ton of credit. They fought hard, they played hard, they never quit,” said head coach Nathan Davis afterward. “They made it tough, like we knew it was going to be. It’s tournament time, it’s March, and every game is hard. It’s all about winning the game and advancing to the next one. I thought we made a lot of plays when we needed to.”
Loyola really hurt the Bison on the offensive glass, parlaying 18 offensive rebounds into a 26-4 advantage in second-chance points. Loyola attempted 75 field goals to just 50 for Bucknell, but the Bison made up the difference at the free-throw line, where they outscored the Greyhounds 27-5. Thomas, the national leader in free-throw attempts, went 11-for-14 in the second half alone, including the two clinchers with under a second left in the game.
Bucknell led for 36:27 of the 40 minutes, but the Bison just could not shake the upstart Greyhounds, who were coming off an 82-79 win over Army West Point in a down-to-the-wire first-round game two nights earlier.
The Bison got out to a slow offensive start against Loyola’s zone defense, but finally some 3-pointers began to drop after a 2-for-10 start from the arc. Thomas hit a deep trey, and then Mackenzie connected on two in a row to get them going.
A Brown 3-pointer with 1:30 left in the first half gave Bucknell its largest lead of the night at 41-29, but Loyola nabbed the last four of the half to pull within 41-33 at the break. A 7-0 run capped by a Kostecka 3-pointer pulled the Greyhounds within two at 46-44 before a Nate Sestina layup off a feed from Jimmy Sotos ended a mini-drought for Bucknell.
The Bison pushed the lead back up to nine at 62-53 on Mackenzie’s fourth triple of the day, but a 1-for-5 stretch at the foul line helped Loyola creep back within four on a Hart put-back with 3:27 left.
Bucknell’s seniors took it from there. Thomas connected from the middle of the paint, then Foulland went high for a defensive rebound and handed it off to Brown, who sped the length of the court for a tough a layup in traffic to make it 69-61 with 2:45 to go.
After the teams traded points, Walker hit a deep three to cut it to 71-66. Bucknell then bled most of the shot clock before Brown penetrated and dished to Foulland for a slam dunk. A couple of 1-for-2s at the line and a turnover in the backcourt kept Loyola in it, but Bucknell made its final nine free throws.
The Greyhounds had a little bit of life when Kostecka hit a last-ditch 3-pointer to make it 81-78 with 1.7 seconds left. Bucknell nearly stepped on the end line after inbounding, but Brown got it to Thomas just as the horn sounded. The officials ruled that a foul occurred with 0.3 to go, and Thomas made both free throws to end it.
Bucknell shot 48 percent for the game, including an 8-for-28 clip from the 3-point arc. The Bison attempted 22 treys in the first half but only six in the second, as they kept getting to the foul line. They were 23-for-33 from the stripe in the second half.
Loyola shot 45.3 percent overall, 5-for-17 from long distance, and just 5-for-12 from the foul line.
Foulland tallied five of Bucknell’s 10 blocks on the evening, one shy of his career high. It was the first time the Bison reached double digits in blocked shots since Feb. 20, 2000, when it had 12 in a game at Colgate.
Thomas picked up his 14th double-double of the season the 26th of his career. Mike Joseph (1989-90), Greg Leggett (1989-90) and Bill Courtney (1990-91) all had 16 20-point games in a season, but Thomas surpassed them with No. 17 in this one. He also added to his school records for points (678), free throws made (227) and free throws attempted (294) in a campaign.
Thomas also reached the 1,700-point plateau right on the number. He joins Foulland (1,721), Bob Barry (1,809), Al Leslie (1,973) and Mike Muscala (2,036) as the only Bucknell players ever to hit that milestone.
The Bison, who have now won six straight games and 16 of their last 17, improved to 16-3 all-time against Loyola. Just as Bucknell and Loyola were meeting for the first time in the postseason, the Bison will now face Boston University for the first time in a Patriot League Tournament game.
The Terriers rode 27 points from Max Mahoney to an 88-82 win at No. 4 Lehigh on Thursday. Elsewhere, No. 6 Holy Cross defeated No. 3 Navy 81-65 in Annapolis, and No. 2 Colgate routed No. 7 Lafayette 76-54.
The Raiders will host Holy Cross in the first semifinal game on Sunday at noon, followed by Bucknell and Boston University at 2 p.m. Both games will be televised on CBS Sports Network.