LEWISBURG, Pa. – Senior center Nana Foulland hit 12 of his 15 field-goal attempts and scored a career-high 30 points, leading Bucknell to an 88-81 victory over La Salle on Friday night at Sojka Pavilion. The Bison finished non-conference play 6-7 against one of the nation’s most difficult schedules, and now they will have a week off before starting Patriot League play at home against American on Dec. 29.
Foulland set a new career high with 23 points at VCU last Saturday, and that mark lasted only six days as he dominated La Salle (6-7) from start to finish. He scored 19 points in the first half to help Bucknell grab a seven-point lead, and then he closed it out by scoring eight straight Bison points in the final seven minutes of the game.
The other two members of Bucknell’s outstanding senior triumvirate also had big nights. Point guard Stephen Brown tallied 21 points and seven assists, and forward Zach Thomas scored all 16 of his points in the second half and added 14 rebounds and three assists.
While the “big three” combined for 67 of the team’s 88 points, it was sophomore reserve Ben Robertson who was responsible for the biggest – and most spectacular – play of the night. After the Explorers hit back-to-back 3-pointers to reduce a 10-point deficit to four about five minutes into the second half, Robertson caught a skip pass on the right wing, pump-faked around one defender and then skied over top another for a two-handed jam and a foul. He made the free throw, and then one possession later Brown converted his own 3-point play to push the margin right back to 10 at 55-45.
Bucknell would go on to lead by as many as 17 with Thomas, Foulland and Brown taking over. After the Robertson dunk, the seniors accounted for 31 of the team’s final 36 points.
“I thought we came ready to play tonight and showed tremendous resiliency when La Salle made a couple of runs at us,” said head coach Nathan Davis. “It feels really good to finish non-league play 6-3 after the 0-4 start. We are going to enjoy the holiday, and then we have a big week ahead as we get ready for American and the start of league play.”
Bucknell trailed 14-8 after six minutes of play, but then held La Salle to a single field goal over the next eight minutes in a 19-4 run that flipped the six-point deficit into a nine-point lead at 27-18. Foulland had nine points in that surge, and Brown hit back-to-back jumpers, including a 3-pointer.
Brown hit three treys in the first half, the last giving Bucknell a 31-21 lead with 1:36 left. Isiah Deas, who scored 24 points off the bench for La Salle, closed out the first-half scoring with a trey to make it 41-34 at the break.
After playing the role of facilitator in the first half, Thomas got on the board 2:08 into the second half when he put back Foulland’s missed free throw. Thomas scored again in the paint, and Nate Sestina put back a miss to make it 49-39. But Dajour Joseph and Deas connected on threes just 21 seconds apart to get La Salle back in the game.
Bucknell turned it over on the next possession, but Deas missed on a chance to cut it to two at the other end. Then Robertson swung the momentum back to the home side with his highlight-reel stuff.
After LaSalle answered with a Deas dunk in transition, Bucknell went on a 14-5 run and took its first 17-point lead at 69-52 on a Nate Jones 3-pointer.
Foulland’s fourth straight jump-hook gave him his first career 30-point night and gave the Bison a commanding 82-66 lead with 3:50 to play. The Explorers made it interesting, getting as close as six at 87-81 with 25 seconds left, but the Bison kept them at arm’s length by making 6 of 8 free throws in the final two minutes.
Foulland’s 12 made field goals also established a new career high and tied the Sojka Pavilion single-game record, and he also hit 6 of 11 from the foul line, grabbed four rebounds and blocked three shots.
“We did a good job getting Nana the ball in good places where he could score,” said Davis. “He showed great patience when the double teams came and took advantage of his scoring opportunities.”
This was Bucknell’s 14th straight home victory (4-0 this season), and the Bison improved to 2-2 against the Atlantic 10 this year.
Bucknell entered the game with the 14th-toughest schedule in the country, while La Salle’s was ranked as the 12th-hardest. Three of La Salle’s six losses coming in were against top-25 opponents while two others came against Boston College and Towson teams with a combined 19 wins.
Pookie Powell led the Explorers with 29 points. Powell and Deas combined for 53 of the team’s 81 points. La Salle shot 41.2 percent from the field and hit 9 of 25 3-point attempts one game after going 16-for-29 in a win over Mercer.
Bucknell shot 54.7 percent, their second-highest figure of the season, despite hitting just 5 of 17 from 3-point distance. The Bison outscored La Salle 25-16 from the free-throw line.
Thomas, went over the 1,300-point mark for his career and recorded his fifth double-double of the season and 17th of his career.
Bucknell will be home for its first two Patriot League games, Dec. 29 against American and Jan. 2 against Boston University.