A season so promising looked to be slipping away.
Upstart Army took every shot top-seeded Bucknell threw at it Saturday afternoon and survived.
Patriot League Rookie of the Year Kyle Wilson’s three-point play with 4:52 left in the game gave the Black Knights their first lead since the game’s opening minute.
It looked like Army might be able to pull off the biggest upset in Patriot League Tournament history at Sojka Pavilion.
However, you don’t become the kind of team Bucknell is without what ESPN commentator Bill Rafferty refers to as “onions.”
On consecutive possessions Bryson Johnson hit a 3-pointer and Cameron Ayers added a fast break layup to give the Bison the lead back, and Patriot League Player of the Year Mike Muscala had points on three trips down the court as Bucknell held on for a 78-70 semifinal win.
“I thought it was a heck of a gut-check victory. I really thought we showed a lot of toughness when they went up one. We were really teetering on the ropes and Bryson hit a big shot,” Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. “I have to give Army and (Coach) Zach (Spiker) a lot of credit for the job they’ve done up there. I feel like I’ve been through a prize fight. We’re happy to survive and advance.”
Bucknell (27-5) hosts Lafayette (19-14), an 82-69 winner over Lehigh in the other semifinal, in the Patriot League championship game at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday night at Sojka Pavilion. The Bucknell allotment of tickets was sold out by the end of Saturday’s post-game press conference.
It’s the third-straight season Bucknell has made the tournament championship game, and the 10th time overall.
Army finishes the season at 16-15, its first winning season since 1984-85.
Bucknell led for most of the way but couldn’t create separation, leading by as many as seven points with 12 minutes left in the second half. Ayers scored eight consecutive points on a dribble hand-off play between he and Muscala at the top of the key.
“I think I just had to be more aggressive and confident. Mike grabbed me before the second half started and told me it was my half,” Ayers said. “My teammates had great confidence in me. I got some confidence in the mid-range (shot) and the basket started to look pretty wide.”
The Black Knights wouldn’t go away despite only three field goals in a 12-minute stretch of the second half. Army used a 10-2 run capped by Wilson’s three-point play to take a 61-59 lead.
On Bucknell’s next possession, Johnson got open on the right-wing and knocked down a 3-pointer as the shot clock was winding down to give Bucknell the lead with 4:15 left in the game.
“(Army’s Kyle Toth) reached in on me and it gave me a real good look at the basket,” Johnson said. “I just figured the shot clock was winding down and I had confidence in my shot. It was just one those broken plays and it worked out in our favor. It was a little bit of luck, but we’ll take it.”
A quick missed 3-pointer by Toth caused a long rebound. Ayers tracked it down and pushed the ball for a layup and a 64-61 lead with 3:59 left.
“It was in the flow of the game; it was the right time of the game to do it,” Ayers said. “We do try to push the ball when we can. It was just a one-on-one situation. I knew (the defender) was going to try to reach. I knew I was going to get fouled or make a layup.”
Muscala then went to work, going to the foul line on three consecutive possessions. Muscala made five of six at the line as the Bison answered Army’s run with a 10-1 run of their own.
“I don’t want to play in the NIT again,” Muscala explained of his late aggressiveness inside.
Army cut the lead to five, but Stephen Kaspar hit two foul shots and then made a huge steal which Johnson turned into two foul shots to give Bucknell a nine-point lead with 59 seconds to play.
The game turned into a foul-shooting contest as the teams combined to shot 51 fouls in the second half, 63 total for the game.
Muscala finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds. It was his 21st double-double of the season, which leads the nation. His layup with 13:05 left in the game made him the first 2,000-point scorer in BU men’s history. He has 2,007 points in his career.
Ayers chipped in 19 points while Johnson added 12, including 6-of-6 from the line.
Wilson led five Black Knights in double figures with 21 points. Toth chipped in 13, while Ella Ellis, Kevin Ferguson and Larry Toomey each finished with 11.
A season so promising looked to be slipping away.
College football: Fisher resigns as Penn State quarterbacks coach
Warrior Run graduate helped mold Big Ten Freshman of the Year
College notebook: Valley athletes wrap up careers
Two local athletes wrapped up outstanding careers on the Bloomsburg University football team in the Huskies' 40-38 loss to West Chester this past Saturday in the NCAA Division II playoffs. Mount Carmel graduate Chris Steck was a senior captain and four-year starter at center for the Huskies. Steck started all 48 games in his career for a Huskies' offense that averaged 315.8 yards per game on the ground last year and 317 yards per game this year.
Seahawks slam Saints, take control in NFC
The rest of the NFC better get ready to visit the Pacific Northwest in January. After Monday night’s rout, the road through the NFC playoffs is almost certain to go through Seattle.
Todd Hummel's college sports column: Bison adjusting to new roles
Bucknell's offensive cost of the graduation of Mike Muscala, Bryson Johnson and Joe Willman are readily apparent.
Men's basketball: Bison are 'largely untested'
You don't replace the kind of senior class the Bucknell men's basketball team graduated last May.
Women's basketball: Things looking up for Roussell, Bucknell
The Bucknell women's basketball team improved by 10 games under first-year coach Aaron Roussell.
Men's basketball: Susquehanna rally falls short
Susquehanna made 12 three-pointers against Elizabethtown but the Crusaders could not sink two when they needed them most.
Women's basketball: Bucknell loses double-digit lead, game
Three Bison scored in double-digits and the squad jumped out to an 11-point lead in the first half, but the New Jersey Institute of Technology came charging back.
College football: Bloom wilts amid turnovers
Five turnovers were too much for Bloomsburg to overcome Saturday in a stinging playoff loss to conference rival West Chester.
College football: Penn State upsets No. 14 Wisconsin in season finale
A bright future for Penn State emerged on a cool, crisp day in the Midwest. Strong-armed freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg figures to only improve for the Nittany Lions.
Men's basketball: Princeton heats up, beats cold Bison
After shooting under 50 percent and under 40 percent from behind the arc in a loss Tuesday on the road at Mount St. Mary's, the Bison had their worse offensive game of the young season at Sojka Pavilion on Saturday night against Ivy League-foe Princeton. Unfortunately for Bucknell, it's offensive performance bled over to its defensive effort in a loss to the visiting Tigers.
The best of the best high school football performances
SUNBURY — It’s day three of the now marathon-like Black Friday sales. You are broke or tired, or both.
College football: Quiteh, White in showcase on Saturday
When you run out of words in the thesaurus to describe the football skills of Bloomsburg's Franklyn Quiteh, you know you're watching a very special player. Quiteh's career-long 82-yard run in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference title game victory against Slippery Rock on Nov. 16, was just another day at the office for the Harlon Hill Trophy candidate.
Harold Raker's column on high school football: Valley teams fall short
For Valley athletes, as well as the local media who cover them, it is time to move indoors. The final two teams still standing after week 12 -- Danville in Class AA and Southern Columbia in A -- saw their seasons end in the cold and drizzle Friday night.
H.S. soccer: Shamokin goalie gets chance to play internationally
When she first received the email earlier this month, Shamokin junior goalie Brianna Martin thought that there was no way it could be real.
H.S. golf: Shikellamy's Tyler's take HAC golf honors
Danville's golf team has already built itself into a dynasty since the formation of the Heartland Athletic Conference five years ago.
- More Sports Headlines
- College football: Fisher resigns as Penn State quarterbacks coach