The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 2, 2013

Todd Hummel's college sports column: Bison adjusting to new roles


Daily Item

---- — The offensive cost of the graduation of Mike Muscala, Bryson Johnson and Joe Willman are readily apparent.

All three scored 1,000 points for Bucknell. Muscala graduated as the school's all-time leading scorer. Johnson has the school's 3-point record.

However, it's the more esoteric parts of those players' games that almost have been tougher for coach Dave Paulsen to replace.

I've hit on this point several times already in this early season, but the Bison have several players adjusting to new roles on the floor.

This week, losses to Mount St. Mary's and Princeton left Paulsen frustrated with some of the mental things he saw from his team.

He felt his team's poor offensive performance carried over on the defensive end, and that his players felt sorry for themselves.

"They've got to make a decision. We all collectively have to make a decision to learn to battle back when things aren't going so well," Paulsen said.

Still focused on the loss just 10 minutes after the game, Paulsen was a bit pessimistic when asked if it would be a learning experience for his young squad.

"Hopefully that is the case. That's a good way of putting it -- make everyone feel good," Paulsen said. "I hope that's the case, but we got to learn to bounce back."

Paulsen looks around the country and sees that after Penn State lost to his program for the first time in 28 years, the Nittany Lions ripped off five wins in a row before dropping a three-point game to Mississippi and Marshall Henderson in the finals of the Barclays Center Classic on Saturday afternoon.

North Carolina lost to in-state rival Belmont, 83-80, before winning its next two contests, including a victory over defending national champion Louisville.

"You looked over at the Penn State bench (after our win) and they were devastated. North Carolina got beat by Belmont. Both of those teams responded," Paulsen said. "We have to learn to do that. It falls across the board, but it falls mostly on our most veteran players -- our seniors and captains."

Paulsen's concerns about his team also come on the defensive end. Bucknell struggled staying in front of the basketball against Princeton after a strong effort early in the game Saturday.

Princeton, after starting the game 2-of-10 from behind the 3-point arc and 4-of-18 from floor, shot just under 50 percent from floor and over 50 percent from 3-point.

"The guys are trying hard, but there is a difference (on defense) between trying hard and competing. We haven't figured out the difference, yet," Paulsen said. "Teams that just try hard are going to beat. Teams that win compete on defense."

Before getting too down on the Bison and their 3-4 record, teams have adjusted to Bucknell's strength's in the early season. Stephen Kaspar has found it tougher to get into the lane, while Cam Ayers, who was 26-of-45 from the floor in a five-game stretch, has struggled a bit to make shots (6-of-22) as he's become the focus of the opponents' defenses.

However, the Bucknell players are smart, of course. To use a baseball analogy, teams have adjusted to the hot rookie hitter and now Ayers and Kaspar have to adjust their games to what defenses are doing now.

n Todd Hummel covers college sports for The Daily Item. Email comments to sports@dailyitem.com.