By Todd Stanford
For The Daily Item
Bucknell missed one opportunity for a big statement win against a fellow Pennsylvania school earlier this season. The Bison weren’t about to let a second opportunity slip through their fingers.
Senior center Mike Muscala and senior forward Joe Willman each scored 18 points before a raucous crowd at Sojka Pavilion on Saturday night, as Bucknell thumped LaSalle, 74-66.
“That was a terrific win for us,” said Bison coach Dave Paulsen, whose team lost to LaSalle last season. “LaSalle is, in my opinion, the best team we’ve played so far this year.”
The game was Bucknell’s first home victory against a Big 5 school since a win over LaSalle in 2007. They also improved their record to 1-1 against fellow Pennsylvania schools following a three-point loss at Penn State last month.
“It’s a quality win against a quality team,” Paulsen said. “It speaks to our guys’ resilience and resolve.”
Muscala and Willman weren’t the only story for the Bison (9-1). Guards Ryan Frazier and Cameron Ayers combined for 20 points. Frazier, a freshman from Silver Spring, Md., had a huge four-point play after being fouled by the Explorers’ 6-foot-11 inch center Steve Zack in the second half.
“I was just hoping he would fall on me, so if I do miss it I get some free throws,” said Frazier, whose four-point play pushed the lead to 14. “I just focused. (Muscala) made a great pass, and it went in.”
LaSalle (6-2) saw its five-game winning streak come to an end with the loss. Ramon Galloway had a game-high 21 points for the Explorers.
“We lost to a very good team,” LaSalle coach John Giannini said. “We pressured them hard. (But) the pressure didn’t bother them.”
Bucknell went on a 14-0 run midway through the first half to turn an 8-6 deficit into a 20-8 lead and never relinquished the lead from there. LaSalle would get no closer than three the rest of the way.
LaSalle was hurt in the first half when Zack had to go to the bench early with two fouls. From there, Muscala and Willman dominated in the paint.
“It’s an easy bucket once you get the (offensive) rebound,” Willman said. “And it deflates the other team.”
“They got some key offensive rebounds,” Giannini added. “And they posted up well.”
Bucknell shot 50 percent from the floor for the game, while the Explorers only hit 38.7 percent of their shots. The Bison finished the night with a 38-31 rebounding advantage.
NOTES: Muscala, who’s from Roseville, Minn., is friends with LaSalle’s D.J. Peterson, who’s from nearby Burnsville, Minn. However, that didn’t stop Muscala from blocking one of Peterson’s shots in the second half. … Both teams shot lights out from the foul line. Bucknell made 14 of 17 from the charity stripe, while LaSalle hit 14 of 16. … The Bison have just six wins against the Explorers all-time in a series that stretches back to 1903. However, half of Bucknell’s victories have come in the last five years.