By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
---- — LEWISBURG -- When teams have built the resumé that the Bucknell University men's squad has, there is no doubt the Bison have to be ready for an opponent's best shot in Patriot League play.
"We are going to see everybody's best effort," Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said.
That's exactly what Army brought to Sojka Pavilion on Saturday night, its best effort, as the Black Knights were within one possession of the Bison with less than 10 minutes left. However over the final 10 minutes, Bucknell showed the Black Knights that their best effort still wasn't enough to knock the Bison from the ranks of the undefeated in the Patriot League.
Bucknell used a late 21-6 run to put away Army in a closer than it looked 81-68 victory.
"I thought our guys gave a tremendous effort -- through 35 minutes this was a one-possession game," Army coach Zach Spiker said. "Did you guys ever see the movie Groundhog Day? That's what this feels like. It seems like we've been good, but not good enough against them lately."
Bucknell, which has won a nation-best 18 consecutive conference games and 10 in a row overall, improves to 18-6 overall, 8-0 in the Patriot League. The Black Knights drop to 10-13, 3-5.
Saturday night's contest was a physical battle with 44 personal fouls called in the game, 31 coming in the second half. The second half featured bodies flying and even some body parts as Bucknell guard Cameron Ayers lost a tooth late in the second half from an elbow.
However that didn't stop the Bison. Bucknell led by eight at halftime, but managed only one field goal in the first seven minutes of the second half. That allowed the Black Knights to tie the game at 44-44 with 13:55 left in the game. That started a six-minute stretch where Army stayed within one possession of Bucknell, but the key was the Black Knights never were able to take the lead.
"You always wonder if they are going play differently (if we take the lead)," Spiker said. "We just didn't execute enough to have a chance to find out how they would have reacted."
Army would cut the lead to 57-56 with 8:49 left on two foul shots by Jordan Springer, but Bryan Cohen's three-point play, followed by a 3-pointer by Bryson Johnson pushed Bucknell's lead to 63-57 with 8:08 left in the game. It was Cohen's second three-point play of the second half and he finished with a game-high 19 points.
"I think we were in floor game, so we had four guards on the floor. I knew I had a bigger post player on me," Cohen said. "I was able to get to the rim and finish."
Leading scorer Mike Muscala was held in check in the first half, scoring 10 of his 16 points after halftime, eight coming from the foul line.
"The coaches wanted me to face up a little more at the basket," Muscala said. "I need to make a couple more of those shots inside though." (Muscala was just 4-of-10 from floor).
Once Bucknell pushed its lead to six, the Black Knights were never able to get closer. Bucknell would eventually push its lead to 13 with 1:45 left in the game on two foul shots by Ayers.
Besides Cohen and Muscala, both Johnson and Ayers finished in double figures for Bucknell. Johnson had 14 points off the bench, including hitting 4-of-5 shots from behind the 3-point line. Ayers finished with 12 points.
Julian Simmons had 15 points to lead the Black Knights. Ella Ellis, who is third in the Patriot League in scoring at 18.3 points, had 13 points for Army, five below his average.
Saturday's game got off to a quick start as both teams shot lights out from the floor. The Bison shot 70.8 percent from the floor in the first half, but couldn't build much of lead until late cause the Black Knights shot 6-of-9 from behind the 3-point arc.
The Bison needed a late 8-0 run to build their nine-point halftime advantage.