March 7, 2012
LEWISBURG, Pa. - Bucknell's dreams of a second straight Patriot League championship and NCAA Tournament bid were dashed on Wednesday night, as Lehigh held off every Bison charge in an 82-77 victory at jam-packed Sojka Pavilion. Mike Muscala had a monster night with 30 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots, but the Bison fell to 24-9 and will be relegated to their first-ever appearance in the National Invitation Tournament.
C.J. McCollum scored 29 points and Gabe Knutson had 23 to lead the second-seeded Mountain Hawks (26-7), who are responsible for two of Bucknell's three home losses this season.
In a well-played battle of the Patriot League's highest-scoring team (Lehigh) and the top-ranked defensive squad (Bucknell), the Mountain Hawks were efficient offensively right from the start. A Mackey McKnight 3-pointer gave them an early 14-6 lead. Bucknell charged back to tie it at 15 on a Muscala layup, but as was the case the entire night, Lehigh answered every Bison run and never allowed the home team to grab the lead.
B.J. Bailey hit a 3-pointer and McCollum converted a 3-point play for a quick 6-0 run, and the Bison were again fighting from behind. It was a 25-23 game after Ben Brackney hit a 3-pointer for Bucknell, but Lehigh went on an 11-2 run to take its largest lead of the night. Bailey hit another trey, Knutson had a tip-in on one of his five offensive rebounds, and McKnight capped the run with a 3-pointer to make it 36-25 with 3:47 left in the half.
Bucknell made some headway before the break, mainly at the free-throw line. Muscala made three straight trips to the line, hitting 5 of 6, but McCollum hit a 3-pointer before Bryson Johnson and Joe Willman made four more from the line. Bucknell had a possession down by five with a chance to draw closer in the final seconds of the half, but the Bison turned it over and McCollum was fouled on a drive with six seconds left. He made both to make it a 41-34 game at the break.
Just under four minutes into the second half Lehigh's lead was still seven at 50-43, when the Bison scored seven straight to tie it up. Willman's short fadeaway jumper brought them within 50-49, and after two more defensive stops, Brian Fitzpatrick
went 1-for-2 at the line to tie it at 50 with 13:12 to play.
But just as soon as the Bison pulled even, Lehigh scored on four straight possessions for a 9-0 run. McCollum hit a short pull-up and then twice fed backup center Justin Maneri for layups. John Adams' only field goal of the game was a 3-pointer that made it a 59-50 game with 9:37 to play.
Again Bucknell had plenty of fight left, using a 10-2 run to pull within a point. Kaspar, who had a strong night at the point coming off the bench, converted a 3-point play after a nifty backdoor pass from Muscala. Kaspar was then fouled on a drive to the basket and made 1 of 2 at the line to bring Bucknell within 61-60. The Bison had a possession to finally take the lead, but Muscala was stripped going up, and McKnight scored at the other end. After another miss, McCollum made 1 of 2 at the line to make it a two-possession game again at 64-60.
Bucknell had another shot at the lead inside three minutes to play trailing 69-67, but Johnson's 3-point attempt came up just short. Then McCollum was fouled shooting a trey and made all three free throws. Muscala had a driving layup attempt rim out and Bryan Cohen couldn't put back the offensive rebound, then at the other end McCollum scored again to make it 74-67 with 1:38 left.
Bucknell nearly came up with some late magic in the final minute. Trailing 78-71, Johnson swished a 3-pointer to make it a four-point game. Ryan Hill then drew a charge on a cutting McCollum as Lehigh tried to inbound the ball, and on Bucknell's ensuing inbounds play Johnson canned is second trifecta in four seconds, this one from the left corner to make it 78-77 with 34.5 seconds left.
The Bison fouled McKnight with 26 seconds to play, and McKnight missed both free throws to keep it a one-point game. Bucknell worked the ball around and eventually Cameron Ayers drove baseline and tried a tough reverse layup, but he lost control going up and McCollum came away with the loose ball.
McCollum canned two free throws to make it 80-77 with 4.1 seconds left. Bucknell tried a long inbounds pass into the frontcourt, but it was intercepted by Jordan Hamilton, and he made two charity tosses to clinch the game with 3.4 seconds left.
Bucknell was playing in the Patriot League championship game for the ninth time, and the Bison were denied their fourth title. They dropped the title game on their home floor for the first time since 1993.
After the game, Muscala and Willman were named to the All-Tournament Team. Willman, who had 18 points in each of Bucknell's first two tournament games, had 10 points and six rebounds in this one. Johnson added 11 points, while Ayers had nine. Kaspar finished with eight points and four assists.
Muscala recorded his second career 30-point game, and it was his 15th double-double and 12th 20-point game of this season. His 30 points were one shy of the championship-game record, held by Lafayette's Brian Ehlers. He is one shy of Boakai Lalugba's program record for double-doubles in a season. Muscala also jumped past J.R. Holden, Lalugba and Jim Wherry into the top 10 on Bucknell's career scoring list. He has 1,354 points, 10th most in program history.
Cohen made his 128th appearance in a Bucknell uniform, breaking John Griffin's school record. Johnson moved within 12 points of 1,000 for his career.
Wednesday's crowd of 4,267 was the fourth-largest ever to see a game at Bucknell.
Bucknell will find out its NIT destination on Sunday night. The Bison have never before played in the NIT.