Bucknell Rolls Past Lafayette in Patriot League Semis, Lehigh Up Next in Championship Game
March 3, 2012
LEWISBURG, Pa. - Frontcourt standouts Mike Muscala and Joe Willman scored 18 points apiece, and top-seeded Bucknell used terrific defense and foul shooting to breeze past Lafayette 79-52 in the Patriot League Tournament semifinals on Saturday, setting up a showdown with No. 2 Lehigh in the final on Wednesday night at Sojka Pavilion. The defending champion Bison will be playing in the championship contest for the ninth time in the 22-year history of the Patriot League, and they will be seeking revenge on a Lehigh team that won in Lewisburg on a buzzer-beater three weeks earlier.
With Saturday's semifinal win, the Bison improved to 24-8 on the season, reaching that 24-win plateau for the fifth time in program history. And they did it by slowing down a hot Lafayette team that was coming off a 13-for-19 3-point shooting performance in an 84-76 quarterfinal upset of Holy Cross.
Bucknell was locked in on the Leopards' 3-point shooters right from the start, and the Bison held the visitors to 1-for-9 from the arc in the first half. Despite shooting just 35.3 percent themselves, Bucknell raced to a 40-20 halftime lead thanks to a defense that forced 12 turnovers and held the Leopards to eight total field goals in 23 attempts. The Bison only had two first-half turnovers and also went 13-for-13 from the foul line in the first half and a tournament-record 19-for-19 in the game.
Bucknell's lead was just 15-13 after the two teams traded baskets over a seven-minute stretch, but the Bison closed the half on a 25-7 run. Treys by Muscala and Bryson Johnson helped open up an eight-point cushion, and then the Bison scored 17 of the final 20 points of the half to go up by 20. Lafayette's last field goal of the half came at the 7:17 mark.
Lafayette finally got something going from long range in the opening minutes of the second half. Ryan Willen, a First Team All-Patriot League player who led the team with 11 points, hit a three on the opening possession of the half, and back-to-back treys by Rob Delaney and Levi Giese brought the Leopards within 12 at 44-32 with 16:30 to play.
Perhaps Bucknell's biggest shot of the night was a Johnson 3-pointer from deep in the left corner that halted the Lafayette run at 12-4. Even though Nick Petkovich answered with a trey for the Leopards, the Bison tore off the next eight points in a row, the final six by Muscala, to restore the 20-point margin at 55-35.
Muscala came out of the game with 11:55 to play and the Bison still up 20, and he never had to go back in. The reserves, led by Bryan Fitzpatrick down low and Steven Kaspar at the point, had a terrific second half and stretched the lead up to as many as 32 points. Fitzpatrick finished with eight points and five rebounds in 14 minutes, and Kaspar's three assists understates his impact on the game, as he and position-mate Ryan Hill were both able to keep the ball moving crisply.
Bucknell shot 62.5 percent in the second half and 46.6 percent for the game, and it outrebounded Lafayette 37-25. Lafayette finished at 35.2 percent and went just 7-for-24 (.292) from 3-point range. Two of those treys came in the final two minutes of a one-sided game, and the Leopards, who came in averaging 70.3 points per game, had just 41 with three minutes to play.
Bucknell, which beat Navy 87-63 on Wednesday, became the first team in Patriot League history to win both its quarterfinal and semifinal game by 20 points or more.
This was Bucknell's fourth perfect free-throw shooting game of the season and second against Lafayette. The 19-for-19 performance also set a Sojka Pavilion record in addition to the Patriot League Tournament mark.
Three-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Bryan Cohen played in his 127th career game, tying John Griffin's school record. Cohen helped limit Delaney to 10 points after Delaney had poured in 25 last time out against Holy Cross. The Bison also held sharpshooter Jim Mower without a 3-pointer and to just six points, seven below his average.
Bucknell and Lehigh split two games during the regular season, with the road team winning both. The Bison prevailed 68-61 at Stabler Arena on Jan. 18, and the Mountain Hawks returned the favor with a 56-53 win at Sojka Pavilion on Feb. 16 thanks to C.J. McCollum's 3-pointer with less than a second to play.
Bucknell and Lehigh squared off in last season's semifinals, with the Bison winning 66-64 before beating Lafayette in the championship. The Bison and Mountain Hawks have met six times in the Patriot League Tournament. Bucknell has won five of those, but this will be the first time the two sides have clashed in the final.
Lehigh has also sailed into the final with two one-sided wins. The Mountain Hawks, who finished a game behind Bucknell at 11-3, defeated Colgate 70-57 in the quarterfinals and American 85-66 in the semifinals.
Wednesday's game tips off at 7 p.m. and will air live on CBS Sports Network.