By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
As the dean of Patriot League coaches, Lafayette’s Fran O’Hanlon has seen some of the best teams in Bucknell history.
So when a young Leopards team visited Sojka Pavilion on Saturday night, O’Hanlon knew what his squad had to do to pull off the upset.
“You have to play almost a perfect game to win here,” O’Hanlon said. “(Bucknell) puts constant pressure on you on both ends of the court with their defensive intensity and offensive efficiency that you have to play really well (to win).”
That Bison pressure, especially their halfcourt man-to-man defense, forced the Leopards into 34.5 percent shooting and just 1-of-13 from behind the arc as Bucknell remained undefeated in the Patriot League with a 66-51 win.
“I was really proud of our defensive effort. I think Lafayette is a really talented offensive team and to hold them to 1-of-13 from (3-point range) was a huge focus for us,” Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. “On a night where we weren’t really fluid offensively, we got 15 offensive rebounds and only turned it over six times, so we had more possessions.”
The Bucknell victory sets up a huge nationally televised showdown Wednesday with defending league champion Lehigh (13-4, 3-0). Bison fans take note the game tips at 6 p.m. and will be shown on CBS Sports Network.
With a veteran cast back this season except for defensive stalwart Bryan Cohen, defense has received a renewed emphasis on the Lewisburg campus.
“Bryan was a terrific defensive player and one of the best on-ball defenders I’ve ever seen,” Bucknell guard Cameron Ayers said. “We knew we would have to make more of a team effort on defense this season.”
Saturday night’s game against the Leopards — a team that runs a variety of motion offenses with plenty of screening and cutting — was a perfect example of that commitment to a team defensive effort.
“Where we were more match-up specific with Cohen, we do more switching (on screens) than we’ve done in the past,” Paulsen said. “We are further along defensively at this point in the season than we have been since I’ve been here.”
Bucknell (16-3 overall, 3-0 Patriot League) struggled offensively itself against Lafayette, especially in the first half, shooting just 37 percent. That allowed Lafayette (8-12, 1-2) to hang around before the Bison took control.
Lafayette led 11-10 with 9:36 left in the opening half when Bucknell went on a 16-5 run to open a 10-point advantage. Mike Muscala started the run with a dunk and had 10 points in the spurt. Joe Willman’s jumper with 2:14 left in the first half gave Bucknell a 26-16 lead.
Muscala scored 15 of Bucknell’s 27 points in the first half and finished with another double-double (27 points, 15 rebounds).
“You look at Mike’s numbers and he had 27 and 15, but that wasn’t a good performance. It’s hard to say that for guy with 27 and 15,” Paulsen said. “He missed some shots that he normally makes.”
Lafayette cut the lead to seven at the break, but Ayers hit a 3 to start the second half and push the lead to 10. The Leopards never got the margin under double digits the rest of the game.
Ayers scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half, including the only two 3-pointers of the game for the Bison. Willman finished with 10 points. Sophomore point guard Stephen Kaspar had seven rebounds off the bench.
Seth Hinrichs had 12 points and Dan Trist added 11 to lead Lafayette.