LEWISBURG, Pa – Continuing its run as one of the nation’s most consistent winners, Bucknell clinched the Patriot League regular-season title in a resounding manner, defeating Loyola Maryland 94-53 on Wednesday night at Sojka Pavilion. The Bison (19-9, 13-2 PL) have now claimed their fourth straight outright regular-season title, making this year’s senior class the first in league history to complete that feat. Overall, Bucknell has now finished atop the Patriot League standings in seven of the last eight seasons.
The senior class led the way on a night when they made history. Stephen Brown led the Bison with a game-high 20 points and grabbed a season-high seven rebounds. Nana Foulland added 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists, and Zach Thomas notched his 13th double-double of the year with 12 points and 12 rebounds in just 21 minutes of action.
It was also a big night for the Bison reserves. Backup center Nate Sestina achieved career highs in both scoring (18) and blocked shots (3) in 17 minutes off the bench. He recorded half of the team’s 36 bench points. Nate Jones knocked down two important 3-pointers when the game was still in doubt, and freshman center Paul Newman scored five points in the final five minutes to help put an exclamation point on the contest.
The Bison shot 53.4 percent from the field (31-for-58), while holding the Greyhounds to just 28.6 percent (18-for-63). Bucknell had a 51-33 advantage in rebounds, outscored Loyola 46-24 in the paint, and built a 14-2 edge in second-chance points.
“This was probably our most complete game of the year,” said head coach Nathan Davis. “We came out with intensity and maintained it offensively and defensively for 40 minutes. First and foremost, I want to congratulate the seniors on a great accomplishment. Winning four straight regular-season titles has never been done before, and it really speaks to the impact they have had on this program on and off the floor for the last four years. They obviously have a lot more that they want to accomplish here moving forward, but tonight is a good night to pause for a moment and appreciate what these guys have done.”
After a trend of slow starts in recent weeks, the Bison came out with a hop in their step in this one. Three times in the first four minutes they pounded the ball into Foulland for buckets in the lane. As Bucknell continued to get defensive stops, the transition game got going.
Epitomizing the fast tempo was a sequence around the 12:30 mark, when Thomas, the power forward, grabbed a defensive rebound and raced up the court with the ball before dishing to the center Sestina for a layup and a foul. Thomas had another fastbreak assist to Sestina in the second half.
Not very often your 4-man finds your 5-man for a fastbreak and-1. Bison are running early and now lead it 20-9 with Sestina headed back for more free throws after the under-12 break. pic.twitter.com/fgW0luSeVA— Bucknell MBasketball (@Bucknell_MBB) February 15, 2018
Brown, the team’s assist leader, took on a scoring role in this one, driving to the rim time after time en route to his sixth 20-point game of the season. He did move past Darryl Shazier into fourth place on Bucknell’s career assist list with 499, and he vaulted all the way from 28th to 24th on the career scoring list with 1,175 points.
The Bison trailed for just one possession at 3-2 and led 20-9 after Brown’s 3-pointer at the 10:36 mark. Bucknell led by as many as 14 in a foul-infested first half, but Loyola was able to cut it to five at 33-28 on two free throws by Cam Gregory.
Foulland powered his way to the rim to end Bucknell’s brief drought, then Jones hit a 3-pointer, Kimbal Mackenzie took a charge, and Brown hit a tough runner in the lane to restore the lead to 13 at 42-29.
Up 44-31 at the half, Mackenzie and Brown canned 3-pointers on Bucknell’s first two possessions of the second stanza, and the rout was on. The Bison outscored Loyola 10-0 over the first 3:58 of the half to go up 54-31.
Sestina’s short jumper made it a 30-point game for the first time at 74-44, and it ballooned to 40 at 89-49 on a John Meeks layup with 4:00 to play. The 41-point final margin was Bucknell’s largest since a 46-point win (107-61) over Shenandoah in the 2015-16 season opener. It was the largest over a Division I opponent since an 83-39 drubbing of Cornell on Dec. 17, 2005.
Bucknell shot 58.1 percent in a 50-point second half and 53.4 percent overall. The Bison hit 7 of 20 3-point attempts and went 25-for-36 from the foul line. Defensively, Bucknell turned in its second-best defensive field-goal percentage of the season, limiting the Greyhounds to 18-for-63 shooting. Loyola was 4-for-16 from long distance and also struggled at the foul line, making just 13 of 29.
In addition to a +18 rebounding margin, the Bison blocked a season-high nine shots. They limited all-star guard Andre Walker, the league’s fourth-leading scorer to seven points, his fewest in conference play, on 2-for-13 shooting. Isaiah Hart led Loyola with 12 points and four assists, while Andrew Kostecka added 10.
There are still three games remaining in the regular season, but Bucknell is now assured of playing at home as long as it advances in the Patriot League Tournament. This is Bucknell’s 12th regular-season title in the Patriot League’s 28-year history. No other team has won more than five.
The Bison will be the No. 1 seed in the tourney for the ninth time. They are 103-26 against league opponents since 2010-11.
Bucknell became the second Division I team in the country to wrap up its league title. Florida Gulf Coast clinched the Atlantic Sun on Saturday.
At 13-2 in Patriot League play, Bucknell now has a four-game lead over Navy and Colgate with three games to go. Lehigh and Boston University are tied for fourth at 8-7, with Holy Cross moving up to sixth at 7-8. The Bison will next play at Holy Cross on Saturday at noon.