LEWISBURG, Pa. - One of the greatest senior classes in Bucknell basketball history added another golden moment to its legacy, and the Bison are headed back to the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row and eighth time overall after a dominant, 83-54 victory over Colgate in the Patriot League title game on Wednesday night at jam-packed Sojka Pavilion.
Led by a scintillating 22-point, six assist performance from Tournament MVP Stephen Brown and typical strong work up front by fellow seniors Nana Foulland and Zach Thomas, the Bison posted the largest victory margin in the history of the conference’s title game. Bucknell broke away with a 23-2 run late in the first half and never looked back, and now it will await its NCAA Tournament destination when the brackets are revealed on Sunday night.
“This wasn’t easy,” said head coach Nathan Davis after cutting down the nets. “It took a lot of hard work and preparation all year long from everyone in the program. The fans don’t get to see the guys working out in the gym by themselves, trying to get better every day. That’s the reason why I am so happy and proud of all of them. They deserve a championship because of how hard they worked to get here.”
Brown was simply sensational throughout the Patriot League Tournament. In wins over Loyola, Boston University and Colgate, the point guard scored 64 points, tallied 13 assists and recorded five steals, while committing only two turnovers. Foulland and Thomas were also named to the Patriot League All-Tournament team, both for the second consecutive year. Foulland had 12 points and nine rebounds in the title game, while Thomas registered five points, a game-high 12 rebounds and two blocked shots.
While the seniors did their thing, a big part of the story for Bucknell was junior reserve Nate Sestina. While the Bison got off to a bit of a slow start offensively, Sestina was active off the bench, scoring 12 first half points before finishing the night with 16 points, four rebounds and two blocked shots in 18 minutes.
Back-to-back champs! @Bucknell_MBB junior Nate Sestina joined the PLN's @Morgan_Uber after winning a second consecutive @PatriotLeague title and discusses what it took to fire Bucknell up in the first half & much more pic.twitter.com/Bj00laTgOW— Patriot League Network | PatriotLeague.tv (@PatriotLeagueTV) March 8, 2018
After a tight, five-point victory over Loyola in the quarterfinal round, the Bison romped to the title by winning their final two games by a combined 60 points. Wednesday’s 29-point win was the largest ever in a Patriot League final, bettering Lafayette’s 26-point margin (87-61) against Navy in 2000.
The Bison shot 31-for-60 from the field (51.7%), including making 13 of their 28 3-point attempts. Meanwhile, Bucknell’s defense held Colgate to 17-for-52 shooting (32.7%), including 6-for-17 from the 3-point arc.
Bucknell received impactful play up-and-down the lineup. Avi Toomer and Kimbal Mackenzie each scored eight points and hit a pair of threes. Sestina’s 16 points came on 7-for-9 shooting. Nate Jones scored five points in 16 minutes and contributed to the defensive effort, while Jimmy Sotos hit a pair of free throws and handed out four assists.
The Bison started the game 4-for-15 from the field and trailed 13-10 after 11 minutes of action. Back-to-back threes by Mackenzie and Brown, followed by a Sestina 3-point play, gave Bucknell nine quick points and ignited that decisive run.
After two free throws from Dana Batt, Sestina scored on a pretty pick-and-roll feed from Brown, starting a run of 14 straight Bucknell points. Thomas made both ends of a 1-and-1, Mackenzie canned another 3-pointer, and then Sestina found himself with the ball under the basket after a Colgate player tried to save it off the baseline, and Sestina stuffed it home. Jones tipped in a missed free throw, and Foulland scored with a lefty jump-hook to give the Bison a stunning 33-15 lead.
Colgate got it back to 14 at 35-21 at the half, then opened the second stanza with a Jordan Burns 3-pointer to pull within 11. But then Brown got rolling. He drained three straight trifectas, the last of which was a bomb from about 30 feet at the end of the shot clock to push the margin back to 17 at 49-32.
Colgate scored four straight points to pull within 49-36, but Toomer’s 3-pointer started a 17-0 run that all but ended the proceedings. Two highlight-reel plays punctuated the surge. Sestina got ahead of the pack and somehow caught a long pass and finished at the rim while his momentum was taking him off the court. Then Foulland came up with a steal and dribbled all the way in for a thunderous jam that sent the already boisterous crowd into a frenzy.
Later, Brown slashed through the paint for a one-handed jam, then he made his fifth 3-pointer of the night in seven tries to give the Bison their largest lead of 33 points at 71-38 with 7:49 to go.
All three seniors checked out to standing ovations around the five-minute mark. This is the first class in Patriot League history to win four straight regular-season titles, and they will graduate with two NCAA Tournament and two NIT appearances. They are now 87-47 in their careers and have now combined for 4,747 points.
“It is everybody’s goal and dream to get to the NCAA Tournament, and these seniors put themselves in position to get there by winning four regular-season titles,” said Davis, who coached in his 100th game at Bucknell and improved to 68-32. “It’s hard to win in the postseason, so to get to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments is a tremendous accomplishment.”
Bucknell will head to the NCAA Tournament with a 25-9 record and an eight-game winning streak. The Bison have won 21 of their last 23 and are 25-5 since starting the year with consecutive losses to Monmouth, Arkansas, North Carolina and Maryland.
This is the second time that Bucknell has made back-to-back NCAA trips. The other came in 2005 and 2006. Bucknell’s other NCAA appearances came in 1987, 1989, 2011, 2013 and 2017. This is Bucknell's sixth Patriot League Tournament crown, tying Holy Cross for the most in league history.
Foulland hit a milestone in the game when he became the fifth player in school history to record 900 career rebounds. He now has 902 after collecting nine in this one.
The NCAA Tournament selection show will air on TBS on Sunday at 6 p.m.