The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Sports

February 26, 2014

Men's basketball Bucknell wins fifth straight game

LEWISBURG — The last time Bucknell hosted a team from the Lehigh Valley, the Bison began a dispiriting two-game losing streak in which they lost to a sub .500 Lafayette squad before getting blown out of the gym at Holy Cross.

Fast forward just a little more than two weeks later, and Bucknell might be the hottest team in the Patriot League.

The Bison held off a game Lehigh team Wednesday night at Sojka Pavilion for their fifth straight win. Cameron Ayers scored a team-high 17 points and Chris Hass added 12 in a 65-61 victory.

“That was a great win in February,” Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. “We really defended ... for the vast majority of the game. And that was a key.”

The Bison (15-13, 10-7 PL), the defending league champs, are assured of hosting a Patriot League quarterfinal next Wednesday. They’ll close out the regular season Saturday at American.

“We’re playing confidently,” Ayers said. “We’re hot, and it’s the perfect time to be hot.”

It wasn’t the prettiest win Wednesday. Bucknell shot just 33 percent from the floor.

“If you’re not necessarily shooting well, we (still) got to the foul line,” said Paulsen, whose team made 16 of 23 from the charity stripe for the night. “And we took seven more shots (than Lehigh) because we offensively rebounded so well.”

The Bison turned the game around with two big 3-pointers late in the first half. Ayers hit the first with 2:01 left before halftime to give Bucknell its first lead at 25-24. Then, on the final possession of the half, Hass came around off a screen om the left wing, took a pass from Ryan Frazier, and buried a trey to give the Bison a 29-28 edge at the break.

“Those threes were big,” Paulsen said. “But I think the big thing was, Lehigh hadn’t gotten that much separation on us because we held the fort defensively.”

Although they lost the lead briefly on a Jesse Chuku layup early in the second half, the Bison quickly retook it and never fell behind again.

But the Mountain Hawks (14-16, 7-10) wouldn’t go away. They never trailed by more than seven, and when Hass missed a short jumper with 25 seconds to play and Brian Fitzpatrick lost the rebound, Lehigh had a chance to tie it with a 3-pointer.

But Mountain Hawks point guard Mackey McKnight lost possession of the ball and watched it go out of bounds with nine seconds left. Ayers buried a late free throw for the final margin.

“Mackey’s been in a position where he’s made big plays for us,” Lehigh coach Brett Reed said. “In pressure situations, Mackey has made positive plays for us. I know his heart must be hurting, because he did not have a very good second half.”

Chuku led all scorers with 18 points. Teammate Austin Price added 11 and Tim Kempton tacked on 10.

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