EASTON, Pa. – Tony Johnson’s pull-up jumper with 4.5 seconds remaining propelled Lafayette to a 63-62 victory over Bucknell on Saturday afternoon at Kirby Sports Center. The Leopards trailed by as many as 11 points in the second half, but outscored Bucknell 38-30 after halftime en route to a one-point win.
Joey Ptasinski scored 12 second-half points to support Lafayette’s comeback, as the Leopards made 21-of-26 at the free throw line. Bucknell’s Mike Muscala scored 29 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, while Cameron Ayers added 20 points, including 17 after halftime, in a losing effort. Johnson finished the game with 17 points, five assists, two steals and zero turnovers.
Johnson’s winning shot came after Lafayette forced Bucknell (21-5, 8-2 Patriot) into missing an off-balance three-pointer as the shot clock expired. Ptasinski pulled down the miss with 15 seconds to go and got the ball to Johnson, who got below the foul line for the decisive two.
Bucknell dictated the action in the first half and held Lafayette without a field goal for a 14 minute stretch. Leading 16-15 at 7:32, the Bison scored the next 10 points to take a 26-15 lead at 4:15. Muscala scored four of his 21 first-half points during the run and capitalized on Lafayette’s big men getting in foul trouble. Nathaniel Musters and Ben Freeland each picked up three fouls in the first 20 minutes, and Levi Giese was whistled for two. Lafayette was held without a field goal for more than 14 minutes as Bucknell built its 11-point advantage and went into the locker room with a 32-25 lead.
The Leopards were able to stay within striking distance before halftime with an 11-for-12 performance at the free throw line. Seth Hinrichs, who ended the drought with a trey at 1:42, scored 12 of his team-high 20 points before intermission.
Bucknell opened the second half with a bucket inside by Muscala and a jumper by Ayers, extending the lead back to 11. Lafayette (13-14, 6-4 Patriot) responded with a 10-4 spurt, capped by a Giese corner three, to cut the deficit to five points (40-35). Ayers drained a three of his own for Bucknell before Ptasinski hit a two and Giese’s layup forced Bucknell to call timeout at 13:37, leading 43-39.
A Muscala basket out of the stoppage put the lead back to five, but Ptasinski scored five straight, including three at the line after being fouled on a three-point attempt to bring Lafayette within one.
After Ptasinski’s free throws at 12:31, Lafayette kept it close before taking the lead on a Giese elbow jumper with under eight minutes remaining. With a chance to extend the lead, Giese and Johnson each missed the front end of one-and-one opportunities before Muscala added four points underneath to regain the lead for Bucknell.
Leading by three with a little more than five to play, Muscala missed on the front end and two trips later Ptasinski tied the score at 57 with a transition triple. Two free throws by Hinrichs gave Lafayette a two-point edge, but Ayers drilled an open corner trey and then a foul-line jumper to put Bucknell up 62-59 with two minutes left.
A minute later Johnson’s layup pulled Lafayette within one, 62-61, prior to the senior point guard’s game-winning basket.
Lafayette returns to the court on Wednesday, Feb. 20, when it travels to Holy Cross. Opening tip from the Hart Center in Worcester, Mass. is scheduled for 7 p.m. and can be seen online at goleopards.com/allaccess Game Notes: