Bucknell Survives Intense Battle with Lehigh, Wins 66-64 to Advance to Patriot League Championship Game
March 6, 2011
NOTE: Tickets to Friday's Patriot League Championship game at Sojka Pavilion are now on sale ONLINE. Beginning at 11 a.m. Monday, tickets may be purchased over the phone at 570-577-1000, or in person at the Weis Center, CAP Center in the Elaine Langone Center, or at the Barnes & Noble Bucknell Bookstore on Market Street.
LEWISBURG, Pa. - Mike Muscala registered 17 points and 10 rebounds and hit two critical free throws with eight seconds left to help top-seeded Bucknell hold off a game Lehigh squad 66-64 in a Patriot League Tournament semifinal game played before a jam-packed Sojka Pavilion crowd on Sunday night. Bucknell's ninth straight victory puts it in the Patriot League championship game for the eighth time, where it will face sixth-seeded Lafayette on Friday at 4:45 on ESPN2.
C.J. McCollum paced Lehigh (16-15) with 19 points and 11 rebounds, Gabe Knutson scored 18 points, and point guard Prentice Small had a huge night with 17 points and six steals.
Bucknell never trailed in the game, but Lehigh was able to rally from 12 down to tie the game on two occasions in the second half. McCollum tied the game at 50 with two free throws with 7:40 to play, but then the Bison hustled their way to a 7-0 run to claim the lead for good.
A Shazier free throw put Bucknell in front for good with 6:46 left. After a Bucknell turnover, Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Bryan Cohen stole the ball right back and made a long outlet pass to start a fastbreak. Shazier hit Muscala in transition for a crowd-pleasing 3-point play. Then after another Lehigh turnover, Cohen saved a ball from going out of bounds, and it wound up in the hands of Johnson for a 3-pointer that made it 57-50 with 5:25 left.
Lehigh's intense defensive pressure caused Bucknell some problems, and even though the Mountain Hawks went more than 10 minutes with only one field goal, they stayed close at the free-throw line. Johnson made two at the line after Lehigh was called for a flagrant foul to put the Bison up 61-56 with 3:30 left, but then McCollum made 4 of 5 on back-to-back possessions to pull Lehigh within a point at 61-60.
G.W. Boon hit both ends of a 1-and-1 to make it 63-60. After Michael Ojo missed a 3-pointer with 1:59 left, Bucknell embarked on a 65-second possession that was made possible by two Muscala offensive rebounds. He was fouled on the second one and made 1 of 2 at the line to make it 64-60 with 58 seconds left.
At the other end, Cohen knocked the ball away from McCollum, and the Bison had the possession arrow after a frantic scramble for the loose ball. Lehigh fouled Shazier with 24.1 seconds left, but the normally reliable Shazier, an 81-percent free-throw shooter coming in, missed both.
McCollum drove the lane for a layup with 15 seconds left, but then the Bison turned the ball over on the inbounds. Lehigh went back to McCollum, the Patriot League scoring leader at 21.9 per game, but his drive to the basket was altered by Muscala, who rebounded and then knocked down two big free throws to make it a 66-62 game with eight seconds left.
Lehigh scored with 0.3 seconds left, but Bucknell threw a long inbounds pass to end the game.
Bucknell got out to a fast start, hitting its first four shots of the night for a 9-2 lead. The Bison led by as many as 12 at 23-11 after a Willman jumper, and they went on to shoot 55.6 percent in the opening half.
McCollum's deep three with a hand in his face just before the halftime buzzer cut it to 36-30 at the break. Johnson's 3-pointer stretched the lead back to 10 at 44-34 early in the second half, but Lehigh mounted a rally.
Trailing 46-38, Ojo hit two straight 3-pointers from the left corner to make it 46-44. A Muscala blocked shot on McCollum set up a Shazier jumper at the other end, but a Holden Greiner layup and jumper in the lane by McCollum tied the game for the first time at 48-all with 10:34 to play.
Lehigh shot 38.9 percent for the game, marking the 15th time in the last 19 games that Bucknell has held an opponent under 40 percent shooting. The Mountain Hawks had 12 steals on Bucknell's 14 turnovers, but they shot just 4-for-16 from 3-point range.
Bucknell finished at 45.3 percent overall, including a 6-for-14 effort from long distance. Johnson, who came in ranked fifth nationally in 3-point percentage, went 3-for-8. The Bison were ranked third nationally in team free-throw percentage, but went 12-for-19.
Bucknell's bench outscored Lehigh's 11-0 and has now outscored opposing reserves 134-32 over the last five games.
Shazier now has 495 career assists, inching him closer to becoming the fourth Bucknell player and fifth Patriot Leaguer with 500.
Bucknell previously played in the Patriot League championship game in 1992, 1993, 1997, 1999, 2005, 2006 and 2007, winning titles in both 2005 and 2006. In the 1999 game, the Bison lost to Lafayette 67-63.
This will be the third time Bucknell has hosted the final, defeating Holy Cross in 2006 in Sojka Pavilion and falling to the Crusaders in Davis Gym in 1993.
Lafayette is the first team seeded lower than third ever to make the championship game. The Leopards finished in a three-way tie for fourth at 6-8 but ended up as the No. 6 seed on tiebreakers. Then they went on the road to defeat Holy Cross and American, the latter coming in double overtime on Sunday on Jim Mower's last-second 3-pointer.
Bucknell swept the regular-season series from Lafayette, but needed overtime to do so in the game in Easton Feb. 16. The Bison won that one 74-69, and they beat the Leopards at home, 75-56, on Jan. 19.
The winner of Friday's game advances to the NCAA Tournament.