Bucknell wins Patriot League’s NCAA bid
LEWISBURG, Pa. (AP) — There was no dramatic comeback this time. Just a steady, overpowering performance that propelled Bucknell to its second straight Patriot League Tournament championship.
Stephen Brown scored 22 points and reserve Nate Sestina added as Bucknell won the Patriot League title with an 83-54 victory over Colgate on Wednesday night.
The top-seeded Bison (25-9) head to the NCAA Tournament for the eighth time in program history and sixth time as the Patriot League representative. Four of those six titles have come in the last eight years.
The second-seeded Raiders (19-13) lost to Bucknell for the third time this season. The second matchup, on Feb. 12 at Bucknell, saw the Bison make an amazing comeback from eight down in the final 21 seconds.
Those kind of heroics weren’t necessary this time. The Bison took the lead for good midway through the first half and never looked back. The lead was 35-21 at halftime and eventually ballooned to 33.
“You have to give our guys a lot of credit,” said Bucknell coach Nathan Davis, a former assistant at Colgate. “Our focus defensively was outstanding. After the first three or four minutes of the game, our purpose offensively really improved.”
The Bison finish the season with a 15-1 record at home. They have won 18 of 19 entering the NCAA Tournament.
Brown, who made five 3-pointers, was named tournament MVP. Bucknell shot 46 percent from beyond the arc (13-for-28).
“The players and coaches kept encouraging me to keep shooting,” Brown said. “They kept trusting the work that I put in, and eventually they started to fall.”
Will Rayman, Colgate’s leading scorer coming in and a second-team all-Patriot League pick, scored 17 points. Jordan Burns added 12 for the Raiders.
Nana Foulland had 12 points for the Bison. Zach Thomas, the Patriot League regular-season MVP, scored just five points but grabbed 12 rebounds.
Colgate was playing in the league championship game for the first time in 10 years and gunning for its first Patriot League championship since 1996.
“Their defense led to offense and their offense was really good,” Raiders coach Matt Langel said of the Bison. “They were disciplined. They scored in transition some, they kicked the ball inside. They took what we gave them: They’re so dangerous from so many spots.”
Bucknell tied Holy Cross for most Patriot League Tournament titles in league history and could make a case for currently being the premier program in the conference. The Bison are the first team to win back-to-back tournament titles twice (2005-06).
Colgate didn’t have enough firepower for the Bison this season. With three starters back next season - including Rayman - they may yet successfully challenge the Bison for league supremacy.
Bucknell came away with three points on three straight possessions to turn a three-point deficit into a six-point lead in the first half. Mackenzie buried a 3-pointer from the corner, Brown hit another from the top of the key, and then Sestina converted a three-point play. The Bison never trailed again.
With the Bison holding an 11-point lead in the first half, Rayman tried to save the ball from going out of bounds under the Bucknell basket. But he slapped the ball right into the abdomen of Sestina, who dunked it over Dana Batt to bring the home fans to their feet.
Bucknell will find out Sunday where it’s headed for the NCAA Tournament.
Colgate has an outside shot at an NIT or CBI berth.