By The Daily Item
After trailing by 20 points with less than eight minutes to play, Bucknell had a possession down three with a chance to tie it in the final seconds, but Maurice Watson’s steal and layup effectively clinched Boston University’s 64-61 victory over the Bison on Saturday before a season-best crowd of 3,790 at Sojka Pavilion.
Cameron Ayers scored 23 points and Chris Hass scored all 17 of his points in that late-second-half charge, but the Bison fell to 9-10 overall and 4-4 in the Patriot League.
Boston University (14-7, 7-1), the preseason favorite in its first season in the Patriot League, was coming off a 30-point blowout loss at American on Wednesday. The Eagles shot 71 percent from the field in that game, and Boston University apparently re-committed itself defensively in this one. The Bison could not get anything going offensively in the first half and had eight turnovers and only six field goals in 24 attempts. D.J. Irving’s 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Terriers a 32-16 halftime lead.
Bucknell finally made an extended run early in the second half, as back-to-back 3-pointers by Ayers capped a 10-0 run and cut a 17-point deficit down to seven at 35-28. But the Bison went cold again, and Boston University shot back with an 11-0 run of its own to go up 46-28 with 9:18 to play.
John Papale’s layup made it a 50-30 game, and Irving’s jumper put the Terriers up 52-32 with 7:39 to play. Then Hass got going. The sophomore guard missed Wednesday’s game with an injury and struggled early after coming off the bench in this one, but his 3-pointer with 7:23 remaning — his first points of the night — ignited Bucknell’s comeback attempt.
Hass hit another trey moments later, and then he answered a Travis Robinson 3-pointer with three free throws after being fouled on a long-range attempt. Brian Fitzpatrick tipped in a missed shot, Ayers made a free throw, Hass hit a long jumper that was ruled a 2-pointer after a video review, and Ryan Hill spun through the lane for a layup to make it a 56-50 game with 1:29 left.
Boston University had missed two front ends of 1-and-1s, and then Watson made 1 of 2 at the line to snap his team’s 4:18 scoreless drought. Ayers swished a three with 41 ticks left to make it 57-53, and then a key sequence occurred with 30 seconds to go.
John Papale made two free throws to give Boston University a six-point cushion, but Dom Morris was called for a flagrant foul jockeying for position on the second foul shot. Ayers hit two free throws, the Bison got the ball back and Hass drained another trey to make it a 59-58 game with 19 seconds left.
Bucknell fouled Papale before any time ran off the clock, and again he hit both free throws, but that gave the Bison a chance down by just three points. Hass came off a screen from the left wing and elevated to shoot a three, but Watson stripped him on the way up and went in for an uncontested layup with 0:07 to go.
Hass connected on his fourth triple of the half with two seconds to go. Papale was again fouled, and this time he missed the first foul shot and made the second, leaving it a 64-61 game with 1.4 seconds left. Bucknell tried a long pass into the front court, but it was intercepted, and the Terriers escaped with the win.
“Everyone is going to talk about the great comeback, and I am certainly pleased with our effort and our resiliency, but that can’t take away from the fact that we put ourselves in that position due to a lack of offensive execution in the first half,” said head coach Dave Paulsen after the game. “We allowed their pressure to put us on our heels, and we did not play with the level of poise needed to beat a good, athletic team like Boston University. It was a real mixed bag for us. There was definitely some good to build on, but we made more mental errors than I would expect at this point in the season.”
Fitzpatrick recorded his first career double-double with 10 points and a personal-best 11 rebounds. He made 5 of 6 shots from the field and is now 26-for-30 (.867) over his last six games.
Ayers notched his sixth career 20-point game, helped by a 12-for-14 showing at the foul line one game after hitting 10 of 10 from the line against Loyola. Ayers upped his career point total to 1,339, and he passed J.R. Holden and Boakai Lalugba to move into 13th place on Bucknell’s all-time scoring list.
Boston University placed five players in double figures, with Morris, Watson and Papale leading the way with 12 points each. Irving and Robinson both scored 10.
Bucknell was solid defensively and on the defensive glass for much of the game. The Terriers shot 37.3 percent from the floor and made 7 of 21 3-point tries. But the Bison shot just 33.3 percent (8-23 from 3-point range). Boston University finished with a 43-40 rebounding edge, although the Bison held them to nine offensive boards and seven second-chance points.
Boston University remained one game behind American atop the Patriot League standings after the Eagles improved to 8-0 with an 84-74 victory at Army on Saturday.
Bucknell closes out the first half of Patriot League play on Wednesday at Lehigh at 7 p.m.