BISON GO DANCING! Bucknell Tops Lafayette 72-57 for Patriot League Title
March 11, 2011
LEWISBURG, Pa. - For the fifth time in program history, the Bucknell men's basketball team is headed to the NCAA Tournament. Led by 18 points from tournament MVP Mike Muscala, the Bison punched their ticket to "The Big Dance" with a 72-57 victory over Lafayette on Friday in front of a raucous crowd of 4,271, the third-largest ever to see a game in Sojka Pavilion.
Bucknell will be headed to the national tourney for the first time since its back-to-back trips in 2005 and 2006, and this will be a special experience for third-year head coach Dave Paulsen and his entire cast, all of whom will be making their first trip to the NCAAs together. The Bison will find out their NCAA opponent and destination on Sunday night at 6 p.m., when the brackets are revealed live on CBS television.
Friday's win provided yet another chapter in what has escalated into a magical year. After claiming the Patriot League regular-season title with a 13-1 record, the top-seeded Bison dispatched Army, Lehigh and Lafayette to double up and claim the tournament title as well.
This is only the second Bucknell team to win 25 games in a season -- the other was the 27-5 team from 2005-06 -- and the Bison have now won 10 games in a row and 19 of their last 20. Since starting the season 2-6, Bucknell has gone 23-2 and is one of only five teams in the nation with as few as two losses since Dec. 1.
Despite the 15-point final margin, Bucknell's 13th straight home win was far from easy. The sixth-seeded Leopards were flying high after knocking off No. 3 Holy Cross and No. 2 American on the road, the latter in an epic double-overtime game on Sunday in the semifinals. Bryan Cohen had a 3-point play and a 3-point jumper on Bucknell's first two possessions of the night, and the Bison never trailed in the game, but they had a hard time shaking Lafayette until the late stages of the game.
The Bison battled major foul trouble all night, as senior sixth man G.W. Boon had three fouls and four others had two by halftime. The Bucknell lead was just five at 39-34 at the half. An 8-0 run early in the second, ignited by Muscala's jumper that made him 6-for-6 to that point, pushed the lead up to 11 at 47-36.
But the Bison went dry for more than six minutes, an extremely dangerous stretch during which time point guard Darryl Shazier picked up his third foul and defensive stopped Cohen was charged with his third and fourth fouls with nearly 12 minutes still to play.
BISON FANS STORM THE COURT:
Lafayette was able to cut its deficit to five at 47-42, but it might have been even smaller if not for a few missed open looks and a 1-for-4 stretch at the foul line from the normally reliable Jared Mintz and Jim Mower, who came in shooting 82.0 and 88.7 percent, respectively, from the line.
Bucknell finally ended the drought at the 10:58 mark on a great drive and dish from Boon to Muscala. Less than a minute later, Cameron Ayers rattled in a baseline jumper to push the lead back to 10 at 52-42.
Mower's 3-point play cut it to eight at 54-46 with 9:02 left, but Ayers, a freshman who would later be named to the All-Tournament Team, made it seven straight Bucknell points with a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired. The Bison led by double digits the rest of the way, and by the time Bryson Johnson canned a 3-pointer at the five-minute mark that stretched the lead to 66-51, the once-nervous Sojka Pavilion throng had begun to celebrate.
In the final minute, seniors Boon, Shazier and Stephen Tyree came off the floor to a deafening roar and bear hugs from the coaching staff, and soon after the Sojka Psychos were storming the floor.
Muscala finished 7-for-9 from the field, including a first-half 3-pointer, and led all scorers with the 18 points. Johnson added 15, Ayers 12 and Boon and Cohen eight apiece. The Bison shot 50.0 percent from the floor in the first half but only 34.6 in the second, but they played stellar defense throughout.
Bucknell held Lafayette to 34.6 percent shooting, the 16th time in the last 20 games it has limited an opponent to sub-40-percent accuracy. The Leopards, who normally rely heavily on the 3-point shot, finished 4-for-18 from the arc, and the ninth-best free-throw shooting team in the nation went just 17-for-30 (.567). Bucknell, the No. 3 free-throw shooting team in Division I, went 23-for-28 (.821).
Bucknell improved to 16-0 on the season when outrebounding an opponent (37-34) and had at least as many assists (12) as turnovers (11) for the 27th time in 33 games.
Muscala became the first player to earn both the Patriot League Player of the Year and Tournament MVP award in the same season since Holy Cross' Keith Simmons in 2007, and he is the eighth to do so in league history. He was joined on the All-Tournament Team by teammates Ayers and Bryson Johnson. Rounding out the team were Lafayette's Jared Mintz, Lehigh's C.J. McCollum and American's Vlad Moldoveanu.
Bucknell's previous NCAA Tournament appearances came in 1987, 1989, 2005 and 2006. In both 2005 and 2006, the Bison won first-round games. As a No. 14 seed they knocked off Kansas in 2005, and as a No. 9 seed in 2006 they defeated Arkansas.