By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
With three seniors in its starting lineup and the kind of success that the Bucknell men’s basketball team has had over the past six years, the Bison are aware every team in the Patriot League is gunning for them.
And early Saturday night at Sojka Pavilion in its Patriot League opener with Army, Bucknell found out quickly the Black Knights would be no different.
“We are going to get every team’s best shot this season,” Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. “We got Army’s best shot.”
The Black Knights took advantage of some Bucknell struggles early to lead for most of the first 10 minutes of the game, but when the Bison finally adjusted, Army had no answer.
Bucknell turned a five-point deficit with 10 minutes left in the first half into a double-digit halftime lead as the Bison won their Patriot League opener 76-55 over Army.
“We allowed them to dictate the pace of the play and how the game was played in the first (10 minutes),” Paulsen said. “We allowed missing jump shots to take us out of our defensive focus. After about the 10-minute mark, though, I thought we did a great job defensively.”
Bucknell (14-3 overall, 1-0 PL) missed its first six shots and trailed 11-4 with 13:39 left in the first half after the first three of the Black Knights’ four field goals came from behind the 3-point line. Bucknell standout Mike Muscala struggled early as well, missing a couple of shots to begin the game, including a dunk.
“When (I struggle early like that), I get more locked in defensively,” Muscala said. “I knew we were getting good shots and good opportunities, but they just weren’t going in.”
The Black Knights (7-9, 0-1) still led 17-12 with 9:59 left in the half when Bucknell finally got untracked. The Bison unleashed a 20-2 run as Muscala and Joe Willman did the bulk of the damage. Each had eight points in the spurt as Bucknell opened up a 32-19 lead with 2:53 left in the first half after a Ryan Frazier 3-pointer.
“Mike draws so much attention in the post, which he should, but it got me some open shots,” Willman said. “Our guards were doing a good job of getting the ball in the paint. They just draw guys and get us more wide-open shots.” That run finished off Army as the Bucknell lead never fell under double figures again the rest of the game.
Muscala led the way for Bucknell once again with 20 points and 13 rebounds, and tied his career-high with seven assists. Willman added 18 points, one off his career-high. Cameron Ayers added 15 points, but once again the junior guard’s contribution on the defensive end was just as important.
Army’s Ella Ellis entered the game averaging 17.3 points per game, but Ayers held Ellis to just one shot and two points in the first half as Bucknell built its double-digit lead. Ellis did finish with a team-high 17 points. Larry Toomey added 10 points, all of which came in the first half.