By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily Item
LEWISBURG -- Fairfield kept the ball alive off a miss and kicked a pass to the perimeter.
Marcus Gilbert gathered the ball for the Stags, drove left and exploded toward the rim, slamming the ball down to extend the lead to double digits, a stunning turn on Bucknell's home floor.
The Bison tried to make a run late but could not cut their deficit to less than a few possessions, falling to Fairfield, 73-64, Saturday at Sojka Pavilion.
Bucknell (5-6) head coach Dave Paulsen said the Bison missed shots against the Stags that fell in previous games.
The third time the Stags (3-9) played an NCAA Tournament qualifier from a year ago was the charm. They lost to Louisville and Iona, and had a game against another tournament team, Belmont, postponed.
"This is a nice win for our team," Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson said.
With Bucknell trailing by 10 after Gilbert rocked the rim, the clock started to work against the Bison with 4:46 left. They needed an answer to maintain a chance at a comeback.
Using an up-tempo offense, the Bison moved the ball inside the paint before the Stags defense could rotate, but the Bison could not consistently hit free throws to make their drives count.
One of three Stags in double figures, along with Gilbert and Maurice Barrow, Doug Chappell hit a 3-pointer from the wing to put the Stags ahead by 13 with four minutes left.
Chappell's 3-pointer was on the tail end of a 14-4 Fairfield run that quickly changed a one-possession game into a double-digit advantage.
"It's huge for us," Johnson said of his team's run down the stretch.
Johnson said the string of points late showed his team's talent and potential.
With a 7-for-8 day from the line, in addition to making both of his 3-point attempts, Chappell consistently hit shots in the waning minutes to prevent the Bison from significantly cutting into the Fairfield lead.
Despite the Stags doing their part at the free throw line to escape with a victory, the Bison kept pressure on Fairfield in the final minutes.
After Chappell knocked down a pair at the free throw line, Ryan Frazier buried a trey to trim the Stags lead to 60-49.
However, the Stags converted a three-point play on their next trip down the floor and made enough free throws to keep the lead around double digits.
The Bison pulled within eight points on two occasions in the final minute but could not pull closer.
Cameron Ayers and Steven Kaspar started to find their way through the lane for layups as the game progressed.
"I thought Cam played exceptionally well on both ends of the floor," Paulsen said.
Bucknell kept the deficit within two possessions early in the second half, where a made basket and a turnover could have given them a chance to tie the game or take the lead.
Trailing by six, 36-30, Dom Hoffman pulled down a board off of a missed Stags layup and Ayers knocked down a jumper at the other end to pull the Bison to within four.
Hoffman cleaned up another miss in close and got the ball into Kaspar's hands. He knocked down a pair of free throws after a drive into the lane.
However, after the Bison cut the lead to two, 36-34, Fairfield's Steve Smith scored six of his seven points.
An inbounds play worked its way to Smith, who calmly stroked a 3-pointer and then repeated the motion after a missed Bison jumper to quickly extend the Fairfield lead to eight points.
The Bison trailed early in the game before a 10-0 run flipped the tables. Taking advantage of a series of Fairfield misses from the perimeter, the Bison found their mid-range and long-range games with Chris Hass hitting a jumper, and Ayers and Hass each hitting threes.