Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bucknell: 2012-13 Patriot League Champions


As you enter Sojka Pavilion, a mural of photographs showcases Bucknell's 2005 men's basketball team that reached the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament.
As you climb the stairs to the second level, a gigantic poster of Chris McNaughton's rising hook shot over Kansas' Wayne Simeon in the final seconds of the Bison's historic 64-63 victory over the Jayhawks hangs from the ceiling.
Along the upper concourse, there are more team photographs, and banners showcasing Bucknell's East Coast Conference titles, Patriot League championships and trips to the NCAA Tournament adorn the upper balcony.
It's a walk down memory lane for Bucknell basketball fans, showcasing the Pat Flannery-coached teams that put the tiny Lewisburg college on the national basketball map.
Wednesday's Patriot League championship victory over Lafayette rekindled those days, from the orange-clad fans shouting "Ray
Bucknell" and "I believe we will win," to the make-up of the Bucknell team on the court.
My walk down memory lane started with the man in the middle.
Mike Muscala is a beast in the post for Bison, and the 6-foot-11, 239-pound senior from Roseville, Minn., simply took over the game in the second half when Lafayette sliced a 12-point lead to three with 7 minutes.
It was McNaughton all over again.
Muscala scored 14 of his game-high 20 points in the second half, including six in a 14-2 run that broke the game open after Lafayette made it 41-38 with 7:12 left.
The Patriot League Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Tournament MVP also collected 11 rebounds, his nation-leading 22nd double-double of the year.
"When he gets it going รข€¦," Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. "He put us on his back for a stretch of 3-4 minutes."
Added Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon: "Every time they needed a basket, they went to the big guy. He was tough to stop.
"They can score on so many levels. They can score outside, they can score inside. They're just a solid basketball team."
Perhaps the biggest shot Muscala made was a fade-away, left-handed hook shot from the left baseline that ended what had been a 18-11 Lafayette run.
It was McNaughton all over again.
"I kind of prefer my left hand in the post," Muscala said. "It felt good coming off my hands."
Like Flannery's teams that both won their first-round NCAA contests in 2005 and 2006 (Arkansas), this year's Bucknell team has that dominating man in the middle, good balance, good senior leadership, plays good defense and gets key contributions from unheralded players.
Wednesday, sophomore guard Steven Kasper shut down Lafayette star Tony Johnson, junior Ben Brackney came off the bench to hit two key first-half 3-pointers and freshman Ryan Frazier contributed several key minutes and shot 3-for-4 from the foul line down the stretch.
Whether or not this year's club will further rekindle those old memories by making their own NCAA lore remains to be seen. But don't bet against Paulsen's club.
The Bison are in the Big Dance for the fourth time in nine years, having lost their opener in the 2011 tournament to Connecticut.
That experience, plus last year's run to the Sweet 16 of the NIT, plus a tough non-league schedule that featured wins over Purdue, George Mason and LaSalle and a close loss to Missouri, makes Bucknell a team to watch when the NCAA Tournament starts next week.
"I think we were in awe (2 years ago), and that year we hadn't beaten a high-level team," Paulsen said. "We challenged ourselves with our schedule in our non-league.
"I don't know if we'll win or lose, but I know we won't be in awe and we won't play on our heels. A team is going to have to play pretty well to beat us."


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