By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily Item
Brian Fitzpatrick waited six years for a chance to leave the court victorious on Senior Night.
Fitzpatrick explained that he had lost on Senior Night while in high school, and he did not let a second opportunity slip through his fingers.
Along with Cameron Ayers, Fitzpatrick helped Bucknell defeat Army, 73-61, at Sojka Pavilion on Saturday.
“I wanted to leave it all out there,” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, converting off of glass offensively and crashing the boards on defense.
The Bison seemingly expended all of their energy getting the victory, sprinting on defense to deny open looks and outrebounding Army 42-30.
With the win, Bucknell (12-13, 7-7 PL) put itself into position for a late-season charge for a home Patriot League tournament game, moving within a game of Army (12-13, 8-6) for fourth in the standings.
“That was a great performance by our guys,” Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. “I thought our defensive energy was great.”
Bucknell had to work hard to pull out the home victory, but the Bison knocked down shots down the stretch each time Army tried to make a run.
“(Army is) really physical. They pressure the whole way,” Paulsen said. “You have to be able to grind (the game) out.”
The Bison connected on seven of their 12 3-point attempts, with perimeter shots providing their offense during a 9-1 run late in the second half.
Bucknell took advantage of an Army turnover with six minutes left, getting the ball in John Azzinaro’s hands for a 3-pointer from the left wing. Fitzpatrick and Ayers followed suit to put the Bison ahead, 64-55.
As he has done countless times over the past four years, Ayers played his best basketball down the stretch for the Bison, scoring 10 of Bucknell’s final 12 points to finish with a game-high 22.
While the final number on the scoreboard is the one that counts for wins and losses, the defensive pressure provided by the Bison was as large a factor in Bucknell’s win as long-range jumpers.
Ayers and Ryan Frazier effectively smothered Army’s Kyle Wilson offensively throughout the game, preventing Wilson from driving into the lane and limiting his chances for clean looks.
As a result, Wilson, who averaged 18.9 points per game entering play, was held to two points on a pair of free throws in the final minutes.
While the Bison limited Army offensively, they also took care of the ball well at their end, dishing out 12 assists while committing nine turnovers.
“All week, we tried to (emphasize) ... be strong with the ball (and) limit our turnovers, because I think that hurt us in the first game,” Ayers said. “I think everyone did a great job today.”
Leading by eight entering the second half, Bucknell and Army traded buckets early in the second half before the Black Knights caught fire from beyond the arc, with Josh Herbeck giving the Black Knights a one-point lead, 46-45.
Army played Bucknell tough on the ensuing possession, blocking the ball out of bounds with a second left on the shot clock.
Chris Hass worked himself open on the inbounds play and knocked down a 3-pointer a split-second before the shot clock expired to put the Bison back in front.
Hass finished with 15 points with a pair of 3-pointers.