By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
LEWISBURG -- After last weekend's nonleague loss to Princeton, Bucknell University men's basketball coach Dave Paulsen had two major concerns: the Bison carrying their offensive struggles to the defensive end, and their inability to get scores late in games to close out victories.
Bucknell showed its coach it learned its lesson Saturday night against a Columbia team that had pushed No. 1 Michigan State to the brink two weeks ago in the Breslin Center.
Chris Hass and Ryan Hill came up with the big plays down the stretch and, despite shooting less than 40 percent from the floor, the Bison held the Lions 13 points under their season average as Bucknell turned away Columbia, 57-52, at Sojka Pavilion.
"Some people might have thought that was an ugly game, but I thought it was a beautiful game. A week ago we struggled offensively and we couldn't find ways to manufacture those winning plays," Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. "Tonight, we did. We shot 20 foul shots in the second half, which you have to do if your shots aren't falling, and our effort never wavered on the defensive end."
Bucknell improves to 5-4 on the season and will take a 13-day finals break, not playing again until travelling to Marist on Dec. 20. Bucknell won't be back at Sojka until a game with Fairfield on Dec. 28.
Saturday night's game was a defensive struggle between the two teams. Columbia led 50-48 with 3:07 left in the game before Hass went to the foul line on back-to-back possessions. The junior guard, who had shot just one foul shot all season, hit all four to give Bucknell a 52-50 lead with 1:17 left in the game.
Columbia missed a 3-pointer on its next possession. Bucknell opted to run most of the shot clock down when Hill drove to the bucket, made the basket and was fouled. He missed the foul shot, but the Bison led 54-50.
It capped a great night for the senior guard. He tied his career-high with eight points, and added four assists and two steals in 19 minutes off the bench.
"When you're coming off the bench, it's key to concentrate on defense. The offense will follow," Hill said. "(Our guards) did a good job of getting in the lane and creating some offense."
Columbia's Isaac Cohen made a layup to cut the lead to two, but Cam Ayers made 3-of-4 foul shots down the stretch to clinch the win for the Bison.
Bucknell got off to a slow start, opening the game just 2-of-8 from the field as the Lions were able to take an early eight-point lead, 16-8. Columbia (5-5) had several chances to push the lead to double figures but couldn't. Bucknell's Ben Brackney hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to five and the game was nip-and-tuck the rest of the way.
Columbia led 25-22 at the half, but Bucknell scored the first six points of the second half to take its first lead since an early 3-2 advantage.
After the Lions rallied to take a one-point lead, the Bison bench keyed a 10-0 run that saw Bucknell open up its largest lead at 38-31 on two Hill foul shots with 12:40 left in the game.
Columbia big man Cory Osetkowski had seven of his team-high 16 points as the Lions rallied to take a 50-48 lead before Bucknell's final surge.
Brian Fitzpatrick led Bucknell with 16 points, while Hass finished with 14, and Ayers added 11.