Bucknell Claims Unprecedented Third Straight Patriot League Regular-Season Title with 66-47 Win over American
Feb. 27, 2013
LEWISBURG, Pa. - Cameron Ayers scored 18 points to become Bucknell's fourth active 1,000-point scorer, and Mike Muscala and Bryson Johnson also played starring roles in a 66-47 home win over American that made the Bison the first team in Patriot League history to win three consecutive outright regular-season titles. The Bison improved to 24-5 overall and 11-2 in the Patriot League, and they clinched the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage throughout the Patriot League Tournament.
The Bucknell senior class of Muscala, Johnson, Joe Willman and Colin Klebon became the winningest class in program history with its 88th victory. The Bison also broke the program record for most wins in a three-year period with 74.
"We are very proud to win three straight Patriot League regular-season titles," said head coach Dave Paulsen. "That is a great accomplishment. Regular-season championships are not celebrated enough, because everyone tends to get so locked in on the tournament in March. But we are going to celebrate this one until the start of practice at 4:15 tomorrow. It speaks to the consistency and team-oriented approach our guys have had over the course of a long, challenging season."
Ayers came into the game six points short of 1,000, and he ended the suspense early, draining a 3-pointer from the left wing for his seventh point of the night just 7:23 into the contest. This is the first time in program history Bucknell has had four 1,000-point scorers on the same roster, and it joined Indiana, North Carolina State, Davidson and Santa Clara as the only teams in the country to currently have that many.
Ayers went 7-for-9 from the floor, 2-for-4 from the 3-point arc and made both of his free throws. He is now shooting 58.1 percent from the field over his last nine games and 68.8 percent from 3-point distance in his last four. Ayers did more than just score against American. He tied for team-high honors with six rebounds and three assists, and he led a stellar defensive effort by holding the Patriot League's most accurate 3-point shooter, John Schoof (50.8 percent coming in), to just one trey in two attempts and 2-for-6 shooting overall.
One day removed from being named a candidate for the Naismith Player of the Year Award, Muscala logged 21 points and six rebounds and also added two steals and two blocks on the defensive end. It was his 13th 20-point game this season and the 38th of his career. He now has 1,962 career points, just 11 shy of Al Leslie's school record. Muscala finished 7-for-15 from the field and made all seven of his free throws as part of a 13-for-14 night at the line for Bucknell.
Johnson scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half and finished the night 6-for-8 from the floor and 3-for-4 from 3-point distance. With the Bison leading by just seven points inside eight minutes to play, Johnson scored 11 points in a 15-4 run over a span of just 5:12 that put the game away.
Johnson and Ayers went a combined 13-for-17 from the field while helping limit American's starting backcourt to 6-for-23 shooting. The Eagles (10-18, 5-8 PL) went 1-for-9 from 3-point range as a team and shot 37.7 percent overall.
Bucknell rolled out to a quick 8-1 lead and never trailed in the game. The Bison led by as many as 10 in the first half, but the lead was just seven when they were able to bridge the halftime break with two productive possessions. Ayers grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled going back up with one-tenth of a second left on the clock. He made both free throws to make it 29-20, and then Bucknell had the possession arrow coming out of the locker room, and Muscala scored on a post move to push the margin to 11.
American scored seven straight points to pull within five at 36-31, and the Eagles had a chance to get even closer but Mike Bersch's 3-point attempt spun out. Muscala ended Bucknell's three-minute scoring drought with another shot in the paint, and after American's scoring leader Stephen Lumpkins made his first bucket of the night with 13:07 to play, Willman made two free throws and Muscala finished a 3-point play to push the lead back to 10.
Bucknell's advantage was nine when Johnson got going. He took advantage of a screen to free up space for a top-of-the key 3-pointer, then followed with a pull-up 14-footer that made it 52-39 with 6:37 to play. After a running hook shot by Bersch, Ayers swished a 10-foot jumper, Muscala made two free throws, and Johnson drove through traffic for a 3-point play, giving Bucknell a commanding 59-41 cushion with 3:08 left. Johnson added one more 3-pointer for good measure, and Dom Hoffman's put-back with 1:31 left have the Bison their largest lead of the night, 21 points at 64-43.
The Bison shot 47.1 percent overall and hit 5 of 9 3-point attempts. They had 12 assists with only eight turnovers and finished with a 34-26 rebounding advantage and a 15-5 edge in second-chance points.
This was the fifth time this season that Bucknell had held an opponent under 50 points, and the Bison have not conceded 70 points in a game since Dec. 22 at Princeton, 17 games ago.
Tony Wroblicky was American's lone double-digit scorer with 13 points. Lumpkins, who came in averaging 14.7 points per game, was held to six, all in the second half, on 3-for-11 shooting.
The win was Bucknell's eighth straight over American - the senior class has never lost to the Eagles - and the Bison have won 11 or more games in Patriot League play for the third year in a row and the ninth time as a member of the conference.
Bucknell finished the regular season 11-1 at home, but the Bison will have at least one more game at Sojka Pavilion. They finish up the regular season at Navy at 7 p.m. on Saturday, and then the Bison will host Navy again in a Patriot League quarterfinal game on Wednesday, March 6 at 7 p.m.