Bucknell hangs on for first-ever Patriot League men's basketball title

PATRIOTLEAGUEDOTORG Bucknell celebrates the Patriot League Championship
Bucknell celebrates the Patriot League Championship

March 11, 2005

WORCESTER, Mass. - Junior guard Kevin Bettencourt hit two free throws with eight seconds remaining as Bucknell hung on for a 61-57 victory over tournament host and regular season champion Holy Cross on Friday evening at the Hart Center. The win gives the Bison their first-ever Patriot League Tournament title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

The game was televised live on ESPN2 as part of Championship Week and was played in front of 3,788 fans.

Bettencourt was one of three players in double figures for BU with 13 points. Sophomore center Chris McNaughton led the way with 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting, and Tournament MVP Charles Lee added 10.

Patriot League Player of the Year Kevin Hamilton, a junior guard, led all scorers with 21 for Holy Cross. Senior forward John Hurley chipped in 11.

The Bison are dancing for the first time since 1989. It has been a long time coming for Bucknell head coach Pat Flannery, the Patriot League's longest-tenured head coach in his 11th season. It is the fifth time in the 15-year history of the Patriot League Tournament that the No. 2 seed cut down the nets. BU was the preseason favorite in the PL.

In three Patriot League Tournament games, Bucknell allowed a mere 126 total points, including a record 34 in a first round victory over Lafayette.

The Bison will find out their NCAA Tournament travel plans on Sunday night. ESPN will air its selection special at 7 p.m. eastern time.

Bucknell watched a 20-point lead shrink all the way to two at 59-57 in the closing minutes, as Holy Cross' full-court pressure gave the Bison fits. The Crusaders had a chance to tie the game, but Hamilton's fadeaway jumper from the baseline was short, and Bettencourt grabbed the rebound before being fouled.

His clutch free throw shooting was reminiscent of Bucknell's three-point win at Pittsburgh earlier this season, in which the Massachusetts native calmly sank two free throws in the closing seconds to give the Bison the lead for good.

Bucknell used an inspired opening 10 minutes in this one to silence a raucous Hart Center crowd. The Bison jumped out to a dominant 24-7 lead thanks to nine points from Bettencourt, eight from McNaughton and possession of seemingly every loose ball that hit the floor.

The Bison connected on 5-of-8 3-pointers in the game's first 20 minutes, as well as an amazing 14-of-23 field goals for 60.9 percent. The shooting display came against a Holy Cross defense that entered the contest allowing opponents to shoot a League-low 38.2 percent on the season. The Crusaders shot a dismal 21.4 percent (6-of-28) in the first half.

Final field goal percentages showed 52.5 percent for Bucknell and 34.5 percent for Holy Cross.

The Crusaders will also learn their postseason fate on Sunday, and will hope for an at-large berth based on their tournament resume. Going into Friday's championship game, HC owned a No. 46 ranking in the latest RPI report. The Crusaders won 16 of 17 games to finish the season, compiled a 12-3 record in road or neutral site games and picked up solid non-League victories against Boston U. and Northeastern earlier this year.

Holy Cross placed two players on the All-Tournament team in Hurley and Hamilton. The champion Bison put McNaughton and Lee on the five-man squad, while Lehigh's Joe Knight was also voted by the media.