LEWISBURG — As a standing room only crowd tried to settle down after 20 antsy minutes Sunday evening, Bucknell men’s basketball coach Dave Paulsen reminded everyone, as if they needed reminded, just what the Bison do next.
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“Every single guy on this team and every single coach is here at Bucknell because Bucknell doesn’t just go to NCAA tournaments, Bucknell goes and wins games,” Paulsen said.
Darlings of the NCAA tournament following stunning wins over Kansas and Arkansas in 2005 and 2006, the Bison are heading back to March Madness after winning the Patriot League title. On Sunday evening, nearly 300 players, coaches, fans and friends gathered in the Elaine Langone Center, erupting 22 minutes into the CBS telecast when “Bucknell” finally popped up on the big screen.
The Bison, 25-8, will take on Big East Tournament champion Connecticut (26-9) on Thursday in Washington, D.C. Bucknell will be seeded 14th, the same seed it was in 2005 when it stunned Kansas, while UConn, a two-time NCAA champion under coach Jim Calhoun, is the third seed in the West Region. It will be the third all-time meeting between the two schools, but the first since the Huskies won consecutive meetings in 1952 and 1953.
Bucknell will make its fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in school history and its third since 2005. It will be the first trip for any player on the team, including fifth-year senior Stephen Tyree, who arrived in Lewisburg the season after Pat Flannery led the Bison to an upset of Arkansas in 2006.
In the 21-year history of the Patriot League, Bucknell’s win over Kansas (2005) and Arkansas (2006) are the only NCAA Tournament wins.
Getting to the tournament in their final shot, Bucknell’s three senior captains — Tyree, G.W. Boon and Darryl Shazier — addressed the crowd, and Boon put it best.
“This is what we signed up for,” said Boon. “Going to the NCAA Tournament is going to be an unbelievable experience.”
Both Bucknell and Connecticut are as hot as any teams in the nation. The Bison, after starting 2-6, have won 23 of 25 games since Dec. 1 and are 20-1 since Christmas. The 25 wins are the second-most in program history behind the 27 wins the 2005-06 team had.
The Huskies were one of a record 11 Big East teams to be in the field of 68. While it certainly would have earned an at-large bid, the Huskies got an automatic spot after winning an incredible five games in five days, including four over teams ranked in the top 20. Connecticut is making its 30th trip the NCAA tournament. It won NCAA titles under Calhoun in 1999 and 2004.
“We are really excited, and we know what we have to do,” said Paulsen. “I’ve never coached a group of guys more coachable, more focused and more resilient. We challenged our guys so hard to come up with a little extra effort, and you saw what happened after that.”