Jan. 16, 2008
LEWISBURG, Pa. - Jason Vegotsky hit the go-ahead jumper with 1:04 to play and Justin Castleberry made it hold up with six clutch free throws in the final 25 seconds, helping Bucknell rally all the way back from an 11-point halftime deficit to defeat American 66-62 Wednesday night at Sojka Pavilion.
Castleberry scored a team-high 15 points and John Griffin added 11 for the Bison, who improved to 2-0 in Patriot League play (7-9 overall) for the fourth year in a row and won their 37th straight home game against a conference opponent.
Each of the last two followed a similar script. On Friday Bucknell trailed by 10 early and by seven at the half before coming back to defeat Navy 85-77. Against American (9-8, 1-1) and hot-shooting guard Garrison Carr, the Bison fell behind 36-25 at halftime but outscored the Eagles 41-26 in the second half.
Carr scored 18 of his career-high 30 points in the first half, 12 of them coming on 3-pointers. Carr, who had a league-high 63 3-pointers coming in, drained 6 of 12 from the arc and 10 of 20 overall from the floor.
Two of those treys came in the closing minutes of the first half, and Travis Lay's baseline jumper with 10 seconds left gave the Eagles their largest lead of the night heading to the locker room.
As it did in Friday's comeback, Bucknell rallied behind its defense in the second half. The Bison played a great deal of matchup zone throughout the second half, and when they were in the man-to-man, they switched Stephen Tyree onto Carr. As a result, American shot just 40.0 percent from the field and scored only 26 points in the second stanza, and Carr made only one field goal in the final 10 minutes, that coming on a hanging jump shot with eight seconds to play.
Bucknell put a major dent in its deficit in the opening five minutes of the half. Griffin hit a 3-pointer on the first possession of the half, kick-starting at 15-5 run. Castleberry and Griffin both converted 3-point plays a minute apart, and after Derrick Mercer momentarily halted Bucknell's momentum with a 3-pointer, Griffin made two from the line and Castleberry scored in the paint to make it a one-point game at 41-10 with 14:24 to play.
American came up with a reply, thanks to more clutch long-distance shooting. Carr and Mercer hit back-to-back 3-pointers, both on second chances, to make it 47-40. G.W. Boon hit his first of two big second-half treys, but with 12:17 left Carr answered with a 35-foot prayer with two defenders draped all over him as the shot clock expired.
The Bison still faced a seven-point deficit at the nine-minute mark, when a Darren Mastropaolo free throw began an 11-0 run. Rob Thomas hit a left-wing 3-pointer to make it 54-51, then after Bucknell's defense forced a turnover and three misses, Boon tied it for the first time since 15-all with a high-arcing 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Bucknell finally regained the lead when Mastropaolo sealed his man inside and finished the layup with 3:17 to play. After Griffin stole an inbounds pass at the other end, Tyree hit an off-balance 17-footer at the end of the shot clock to make it 58-54 with 2:22 left.
American quickly responded, as Carr drew a foul driving to the basket and hit two free throws, and after a Boon miss, Nick Hendra hit a jumper to tie it back up at 58-apiece with 1:27 to play.
At the other end, Vegotsky connected on just his second field goal of the night, a jumper from just inside the free throw line, to give Bucknell a 60-58 lead.
The Bison defense forced Carr to miss two contested 3-pointers, and after struggling on the glass all night, they came up with two critical rebounds when it mattered most. Castleberry was fouled after the second miss, and that began his run of pressure free-throw shooting in the final seconds.
Three times in the final 25.3 seconds Castleberry made both free throws - the first two coming in 1-and-1 situations - and each time he pushed a two-point lead to four.
After his first pair, Mercer scored on a reverse layup with 18 seconds left, but Castleberry took the inbounds and was fouled. He made both again, then Carr tacked on his final points of the night with a tough shot in the lane with eight seconds to play, and Castleberry iced it for good with two more charity tosses with 7.3 seconds left.
Castleberry went 9-for-11 from the line - both career highs - and scored in double figures for the sixth straight game and 12th time this season. He did it despite not making a 3-pointer for the first time all year.
All three Bison veterans who were injured at the start of the year made significant contributions. Vegotsky scored seven points, including what proved to be the winning bucket, and handed out three assists. Mastropaolo scored a season-high nine points, and Thomas had eight off the bench.
In addition to his strong defense Tyree had eight points on 4 of 6 shooting and dished five assists. In his last three games he is 12-for-14 from the field, and he has 11 assists in his last two contests.
Mercer added 12 points for American, but with Carr accounting for nearly half the Eagles scoring total, no other player had more than seven. American shot 43.4 percent overall and 39.1 percent from the arc (9-23).
Bucknell shot 45.8 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from long distance (6-16). The Bison were outrebounded 37-22, but they made up for it with a stellar 17-to-6 assist-to-turnover ratio and by outscoring the Eagles 16-7 from the free-throw line.
The six turnovers was the team's fewest since it had six against Navy on Jan. 6, 2007. The 17 assists came on 22 field goals.
The victory was Bucknell's eighth straight over American, and it was its 13th straight regular-season win. Bucknell's last regular-season conference loss came last January at Holy Cross, and the Bison will return to the site of that loss on Friday night.
Bucknell and Holy Cross, which have played in the last three Patriot League championship games, tip-off at the Hart Center at 9 p.m. on ESPNU.