The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 16, 2014

Men's basketball: Bison rally comes up just shy

By The Daily Item

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Down by 16 points with less than five minutes to play, Bucknell rallied within one point and had three chances to win it in the final seconds but could not convert, and Navy held on for a 62-61 victory on Wednesday night at Alumni Hall.

Steven Kaspar had a big night for the Bison with 12 points, seven rebounds and a career-high 10 rebounds, but the Bison could not overcome a rash of turnovers and saw their three-game winning streak come to an end.

Ben Brackney hit four 3-pointers and scored 12 points, Chris Hass scored all 11 of his points in the second half, and Cameron Ayers added 10 for the Bison, who fell to 8-8 overall and 3-2 in the Patriot League. Bucknell fell two games off the Patriot League lead, as American and Boston University both won on Wednesday to remain unbeaten in league play at 5-0. Army fell from the unbeaten ranks with a three-point loss to Holy Cross.

Brandon Venturini had 14 points, Worth Smith 13 and Zach Fong 10 for the Midshipmen (7-9, 2-3), who snapped an eight-game losing streak to Bucknell.

Bucknell came into the game averaging only 9.6 turnovers per game, the eighth-best figure in the nation, but the Bison coughed it up 18 times on Wednesday. That led to 18 Navy points, including 14 fastbreak points. The Bison also missed 17 3-point attempts (9-26) and went 4-for-9 from the foul line.

The key stretch came midway through the second half after Brian Fitzpatrick scored in the lane to pull Bucknell within three at 43-40. The Bison had two offensive possessions down by three, but Brackney came up short on a three and Fitzpatrick was stripped trying to drive to the basket.

Navy turned that steal into a breakaway layup, and five minutes later it was a 13-0 run and a 16-point lead for Navy. Will Kelly banked in two free throws and then Thurgood Wynn picked off a pass and went coast-to-coast for a 51-40 lead. Smith converted a 3-point play and Fong knocked down a long jumper to make it 56-40 with 4:54 to play.

Brackney ended a 6:13 scoring drought with a 3-pointer, and then a steal off full-court pressure led to an Ayers trey. Navy still led by 11 after a Kendall Knorr layup with 3:01 to play, but those would be the Mids’ final points of the night.

Hass canned a 3-pointer, and after a Navy missed layup, Brian Fitzpatrick scored on a put-back to make it 62-56. Kaspar picked Fong’s pocket in the backcourt and went in for a layup, and then an Ayers steal led to another 3-pointer by Hass, bringing the Bison within 62-61 with 54 seconds left.

Knorr missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 24 seconds left and the Bison had a chance to go ahead, but Kaspar’s backdoor pass slipped through the hands of Brackney for a turnover. The Bison again fouled Knorr, and he missed another free throw.

Ayers had a great look at a 3-pointer from the top of the key but drew only back iron. Hass skied for the rebound but missed a contested jumper as time expired.

“Give Navy a lot of credit for their defense, but from our perspective we had a lot of sloppy, careless turnovers,” said head coach Dave Paulsen. “And even worse, a lot of those turnovers led to runouts for Navy. We are showing a lack of maturity and need to learn that games on Wednesday are won in practice on Tuesday. It would have been great to steal one here, but Navy deserved to win.”

Bucknell got out to a strong start, with Kaspar assisting on the team’s first four buckets in a 9-4 run to open the game. Dom Hoffman’s layup, off another dish from Kaspar, gave Bucknell a 13-6 lead 5:47 into the game, but then a rash of turnovers ignited a big run for Navy.

Takeaways in the backcourt led to transition layups for Venturini and Fong, and that paved the way for a 15-2 Navy run. A Fong 3-pointer tied the game at 15, and the Midshipmen took their first lead just over a minute later on a Knorr jumper.

Another steal and fastbreak layup by Venturini gave Navy a 21-15 lead before Kaspar ended Bucknell’s 4:27 scoreless drought with a slashing layup.

Bucknell tied it twice in the later stages of the half, but a Smith jumper and a 3-pointer by Fong with 0:03 left gave the Mids a 31-26 lead at intermission. The Bison turned it over nine times in the first 14 minutes of the game and 10 times total in the first half.

Bucknell shot 43.6 percent overall, while Navy shot 45.0 percent. The Mids were just 2-for-12 on threes and 6-for-9 from the foul line.

The Bison face another service academy squad on Sunday when they travel to West Point , N.Y. , to take on Army at 3 p.m. That contest will be televised live on CBS Sports Network.