Bucknell to Make Return Trip to Patriot League Title Game after 64-50 Win over American
March 5, 2006
LEWISBURG, Pa. - Chris McNaughton and Kevin Bettencourt scored 16 points apiece and Charles Lee added 15 to lead top-seeded Bucknell to a 64-50 victory over No. 4 American in the Patriot League Tournament semifinals on Sunday afternoon at Sojka Pavilion. The Bison set a school record with their 25th win of the season, and they will return to the Patriot League championship game for the second straight year.
Second-seeded Holy Cross, a 73-66 winner over No. 3 Lehigh in the other semifinal contest, will travel to Bucknell (25-4) for the championship game on Friday, March 10 at 4:30 p.m. The game will air live on ESPN2.
Tickets for the championship game will go on sale on Monday morning beginning at 11 a.m. at the Weis Center or Elaine Langone Center box offices. A special student-only sale will take place from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Monday morning at the Sojka Pavilion box office. Valid Bucknell ID is required to purchase a ticket during that period.
Bucknell started and finished the first half in strong fashion in the win over American (12-17). The Bison ran out to an 8-0 lead, capped by a crowd-pleasing thread-the-needle bounce pass from Bettencourt to McNaughton for a transition dunk. American finally got on the board 4:56 into the contest on Derrick Mercer's jumper, but Bettencourt answered with the first his four 3-pointers on the day to make it 11-2.
The Bison then went nearly five minutes without scoring while American rattled off nine straight points to tie the game at 11. Darren Mastropaolo ended the Bucknell drought with a short hook shot, starting an 11-3 run that gave the Bison the lead for good.
Bettencourt hit a three and then fed McNaughton for a layup for a 22-14 lead with 5:44 left in the half. Linas Lekavicius, who led the Eagles with 21 points, made a free throw to trim the margin to six at 28-22, but over the final 1:27 of the half Bettencourt drained another trey, Donald Brown made 1 of 2 free throws and Lee beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer that bounced several times off the rim before dropping in. The Bison took a 35-22 lead into the locker room and maintained at least a nine-point lead the rest of the way.
Bucknell's largest lead was 16 points at 46-30 after McNaughton's short hook shot capped a 9-2 run. Lee had two conventional 3-point plays, one after an offensive rebound and put-back and the other after an acrobatic spin move through the lane.
Lekavicius, who scored 15 points in the second half from his guard spot, tried to keep American within striking distance with a series of tough shots in the lane, but the Bison always seemed to have an answer. Lekavicius brought the Eagles within nine at 49-40 with a 3-pointer from the right corner with 9:17 to play, but Lee and Abe Badmus hit four straight free throws to push the lead back to double figures. Lekavicius later had a nice put-back of a Brayden Billbe miss, but Bettencourt answered with a dagger-inducing 3-pointer after a Jason Vegotsky offensive rebound and kick-out.
The Bison, who went 11-for-12 from the free throw line in the game, got four straight from John Griffin and Bettencourt in the final 1:07 to seal it.
Bucknell shot 57.7 percent in the first half as the starting five combined to go 15-for-20 from the field, and the Bison shot 48.0 percent for the game. They held American to 36.2 percent shooting.
Bucknell had an outstanding 16-to-11 assist-to-turnover ratio, while the Eagles managed just 5-to-13. Bettencourt led all players with six assists, while Lee added four. The Bison held a 28-26 rebounding edge.
Friday's championship game will be a rematch of the 2005 Patriot League title contest between Bucknell and Holy Cross. The Bison won that one 61-57 on the Crusaders' home floor. Bucknell and Holy Cross also met in the 1993 championship, with the Crusaders winning that one in Davis Gym.
Bucknell, which became the 16th No. 1 seed to advance to the league title game in 16 years, won its 20th straight game against Patriot League competition. It was the team's 26th straight home league victory and its 12th straight overall home win. The Bison are now 108-32 at home in coach Pat Flannery's 12 seasons.