March 18, 2012
RENO, Nev. - Another successful season of Bucknell basketball came to an end on Sunday afternoon, as Western Athletic Conference regular-season champion Nevada held off a gutsy Bison comeback effort and prevailed 75-67 in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament before a spirited crowd of 6,927 at the Lawlor Events Center. Mike Muscala had another huge game with 25 points and 15 rebounds, and Cameron Ayers added 21 for the Bison, who finish the season 25-10.
Olek Czyz scored 24 points and Malik Story had 18 for the Wolf Pack, who improved to 28-6 and will face the winner of the Stanford-Illinois State game in the NIT quarterfinals on Wednesday.
Nevada, which won the WAC regular-season title with a 13-1 record before falling to Louisiana Tech in the tournament semifinals, made big runs at the start of the game and at the end of the first half, which had Bucknell fighting from behind all day. But the Bison, who knocked off top-seeded Arizona 65-54 in the opening round of the NIT, showed plenty of fight to make it a one-possession game in the final minutes.
After trailing 42-29 at the half, Bucknell pulled within three on Bryson Johnson's 3-pointer with 1:52 to play. Czyz, a Duke transfer who was a First Team All-WAC selection this year, made two free throws to give Nevada a 70-65 lead with 1:33 left. Muscala hit two at the line to make it 70-67 with 44.6 seconds left. After Jordan Finn made 1 of 2, Bucknell turned the ball over when Joe Willman's kick-out pass eluded Johnson. Deonte Burton then went 4-for-4 from the line in the last 13 seconds to ice it for the Wolf Pack.
Willman's foul trouble was a major factor in the game. Bucknell's all-conference forward picked up his second foul just 4:51 into the game, causing matchup problems against a strong, athletic Nevada lineup. Willman knocked down two shots to get Bucknell going in the second half, but just after his foul-line jumper made it a 44-37 game, he was charged with his fourth foul with 16:10 to play.
Nevada controlled the pace right from the start behind the hot hand of Czyz. The Wolf Pack scored the first six points of the game, and Czyz tallied 12 points in the first 7:36 of the contest to help stake his team to an 18-7 lead. Bucknell got back in it thanks to some good shooting by Ayers, who knocked down three first-half 3-pointers. The last of those brought the Bison within four at 32-28 with 3:06 left in the half.
Bucknell had a possession down by five with a chance to draw closer, but Muscala lost his balance and fell down as an entry pass was being delivered, and Nevada parlayed the turnover into a fastbreak layup by Story at the other end. That ignited an 8-0 run to end the half, and the Wolf Pack took a 42-29 lead to the locker room.
Muscala (12) and Ayers (11) combined for 23 of Bucknell's 29 first-half points, while Czyz (16) and Story (16) produced 32 of Nevada's 42 first-half points. The Wolf Pack shot 60 percent in the first half, compared to Bucknell's 36.4 percent.
The Bison pulled within seven three times early in the second half, but after a tough layup by Muscala cut it to 49-42, Nevada rolled off five straight points to go back up by double figures.
Bucknell rallied again midway through the half. Trailing by 11, Muscala had a follow jam and Ayers hit his fourth 3-pointer in as many tries to make it a six-point game at 58-52. Devonte Elliott and Czyz followed with consecutive buckets for Nevada, but then Muscala grabbed another offensive board, dunked over Czyz and drew a foul. The 3-point play made it 62-55 with 6:14 to go.
The Bison had a possession down by seven at the five-minute mark, but Johnson had an open 3-pointer rim out, and Jerry Evans Jr. answered with a layup at the other end. Cohen's trey then cut it to 66-60, and after Hunt made 1 of 2 at the line, Muscala scored on a post move to make it a five-point game at 67-62 with 2:55 left.
Cohen made a strong defensive stand marking the bigger Czyz on the baseline, but he was called for his fourth foul anyway when Czyz leaned into him on a shot. Czyz made 1 of 2 at the line with 2:34 left. Johnson hit his only 3-pointer of the day with 1:52 to play to cut it to 68-65, but the Bison could not get closer than three.
Nevada shot an even 50 percent for the game, becoming only the sixth team all season to reach that mark against Bucknell. Nevada was 3-for-10 from the 3-point arc and 24-for-32 from the foul line. The Wolf Pack finished with a 33-30 rebounding edge but had only six on the offensive glass, half their season average, leading to seven second-chance points.
Burton, the WAC Player of the Year, was Nevada's third double-digit scorer with 10 points on 3-for-7 shooting from the floor. Story, a transfer from Indiana, had 16 of his 18 in the first half.
Bucknell shot 40 percent overall and hit 8 of 25 3-point attempts and 15 of 17 free throws. The Bison were hurt by 16 turnovers, while Nevada had 14.
Muscala recorded his 16th double-double of the season, tying the school record set by Boakai Lalugba in 2002-03. This was also his 14th 20-point game of the season, two shy of the program mark.
The Bison, who were appearing in the NIT for the first time in program history, were trying to become the first Patriot League team to reach the NIT quarterfinals. Bucknell finished with 25 or more wins for the third time in program history. They won 27 in 2005-06 and 25 in 2010-11.
NOTES: Mike Muscala's 596 points this season rank third on Bucknell's single-season list, while his 319 rebounds ranks sixth ... that rebound total is the highest by a Bucknell player since 1968-69 ... Muscala went 9-for-10 at the foul line against Nevada and became only the second player in program history to make 200 free throws in a season ... his 203 charity tosses just missed Patrick King's school mark of 205, set in 1991-92 ... Muscala shot 85.3 percent at the line this season (203-238), the sixth-best mark in program history ... Muscala 59 blocked shots are fifth-most on the single-season chart ... he now owns the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 spots on that list ... Muscala finished the season averaging 17.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per game ... on Bucknell's career charts, Muscala now ranks ninth in scoring (1,399) and 10th in rebounding (715) ... Bryson Johnson finished with 84 made 3-pointers this season, second-most in program history behind only his 99 from a year ago ... he has 250 career treys and will enter his senior year needing 44 more to reach Kevin Bettencourt's program record ... Cameron Ayers went 4-for-5 from 3-point range against Nevada and shot 46.8 percent from 3-point distance this season ... that is the ninth-best percentage in program history ... Bryan Cohen wrapped up a terrific career with 1,102 points, which ranks 25th on Bucknell's all-time list ... Cohen will graduate as Bucknell's all-time leader in games played with 130 ... that includes 127 starts, also a record ... Cohen played in every game over the last four years ... the Nevada game was Bucknell's 35th of the season, a new program record ... Muscala, Cohen, Cameron Ayers, Joe Willman, Brian Fitzpatrick and Steven Kaspar all played in every game this season, making them the new single-season record-holders for games played.