By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
When Kent State coach Rob Senderoff talked about Bucknell center Mike Muscala before the two teams met Tuesday night at Sojka Pavilion, he invoked one of the great players in Mid-American Conference history.
“I told (our local) guys last week when we were talking about Muscala and Bucknell that he was the best post player we’ve faced since Chris Kaman (now a Dallas Mavericks center in his 10th year in the NBA) in 2003.”
After seeing Muscala in person, Senderoff’s opinion hasn’t changed at all.
“(Muscala) is just good. He lets the game come to him; he posts really hard,” Senderoff said. “He’s a great player.
“I have a bunch more adjectives for him if you want them. He’s definitely the best post player we’ve faced since 2003.”
Muscala finished with a game-high 27 points Tuesday, while the Bison defense held Kent State’s top two scorers 22 points under their combined season average in a 76-60 win.
“I think that was our most complete performance this season,” Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. “We really got into a rhythm offensively and defensively in the second half.”
The Bison (8-1) also got 13 points from Bryson Johnson and freshman Ryan Frazier, plus Cameron Ayers played a large role in keeping Golden Flash’s top scorer Chris Evans scoreless until midway through the second half.
“Ayers did a great job defending (Evans) and we did a good job of helping him out when (Evans) went in the post with the double team,” Muscala said.
Evans and guard Randal Holt entered Tuesday night’s contest averaging 33.2 points combined per game, but finished with just 11 against the Bison. The two combined to shoot 2-of-16 from the floor in the game.
“Randal had six assists, I think that’s a career-high, so I thought he played well,” Senderoff said. “But Chris just had a poor game in every phase. These guys aren’t used to being the focal point of the defense; they have to learn to let the game come to them.”
Frazier’s 13 points were a career-high and he also played a part in defending Holt.
“He’s growing into his role and he’s feeling like he belongs,” Paulsen said.
Bucknell and Muscala got off to a quick start. The senior center had as many dunks (three) as the Golden Flash had points, scoring nine of the Bison’s first 11 points as Bucknell opened up an early eight-point lead.
Kent State used its 3-point shooting to get back into the contest, hitting 5 of 8 from behind the arc, to get back within one point at the break, trailing the Bison 32-31.
“I was a little concerned at halftime because I had thought we had played well, but we were only (within) one,” Senderoff said. “I was hoping we could get the same type of 20 minutes in the second half out of the guys, but we didn’t.”
Bucknell pushed its lead back to eight after a Muscala tip-in with 16:39 left in the game, and maintained that lead until a 22-8 run salted the game away.
“We had a real good flow going (offensively) in the second half,” Muscala said. “We’ve had flashes of that kind of rhythm in practice, but not in a game this year.”
Muscala capped the run with a 3-pointer and traditional three-point play to give the Bison a 65-51 lead with 5:58 left in the game.