After a hiccup last year that resulted in a loss to Lehigh in the Patriot League title game, Bucknell is headed back to the NCAA Tournament.
The Bison beat the Lafayette Leopards 64-56 at their home gym, the Sojka Pavilion.
Bucknell was the best team in the Patriot League during the regular season, going 12-2 in the conference while amassing an impressive 28 victories overall.
The win the conference championship game not only sends the team to the Big Dance for the first time since 2011, but it also avenges the last loss the Bison suffered back on February 16th.
In that game, Lafayette guard Tony Johnson hit a jumper with six seconds left on the clock to beat Bucknell by a score of 63-62.
This time around, Dave Paulsen’s team was ready for Johnson. The Leopards’ second-leading scorer, who was averaging well above his 13.4 points per game average during the Patriot League Tournament, was held to just 11 points on 4 of 12 shooting.
On the offensive end, the Bison relied on their big center Mike Muscala to carry them to victory as he has done much of the season.
The 6’11” senior, who is fourth in the nation in rebounding averaging 11.2 boards per game, came through with his 22nd double-double of the season. Muscala finished the game with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Now that the Bison have secured their tournament berth, they can relax for a few days before focusing on their next opponent. But chances are Coach Paulsen’s team will have their work cut out for them next week.
Since 2005, Bucknell has made three NCAA Tournament appearances. Two of those times, they were awarded a No. 14 seed.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Bison have done relatively well in the NCAA Tournament despite receiving low seeds. Bucknell shocked Kansas as a No. 14 seed in 2005, and then beat Arkansas as a No. 9 seed the next year.
This year, the Bison may be compensated for their solid overall record and gritty post play. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently has Bucknell as a No. 13 seed in his latest projections.
As dominating as Muscala has been, it will be interesting to see how the Bison fare in this year’s tournament, regardless of their seeding.
Early season wins over Purdue and La Salle, as well as a close road loss to Missouri, suggests that the Bucknell could be a very tough out for a higher seed. Plus, the Bison have a decent amount of tournament experience.
In addition to Muscala, two other senior starters (Bryson Johnson and Joe Willman) were with the team when they took on Connecticut in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Bucknell lost to the eventual national champions 81-52.
With a trio of senior leaders, the team would like to get back to their winning ways in the Big Dance.
Tonight was a step in the right direction, because at the very least Bucknell has assured itself a shot at doing just that.