Sometimes business travel comes at inopportune times for those of us heavily dependent on basketball schedules to arrange our winter evenings. This season, I have been away from Las Cruces, N.M., on business and missed two New Mexico State home games: the Southern game in December and the Hawai'i game Thursday night; both opponents are teams that have not yet been covered by anyone in the 800GP. (I'll catch Hawai'i at the WAC tournament, but wow did I miss a game Thursday night. OK ... no more reporting from Pixelvision.)
When I realized I would be in Washington, D.C., for a couple of nights in February, I looked at schedules for possible games, finding what looked several weeks ago to be a good one at American University. The Bucknell Bison were coming to town, in the next to last game of the regular season for both schools. The Bison and the Eagles were playing well, and as it turned out, the game definitely had a bearing on the Patriot League standings. If American prevailed, there would have been a three-way tie for first with one game remaining in the season among American, Bucknell and Lehigh, each with ten wins and three losses. If Bucknell got the road victory, it would lead Lehigh in the standings by one game and American by two.
When my meetings concluded for the day, I caught the Metro to AU and got into Bender Arena for the start of the national anthem; the singer did a nice job. My seat was in the Bucknell section, as most of the other sections had zero seats available for online sales, and I met several of their fans, including a former JV player. I was impressed by the friendliness of the entire contingent and how many of them, clearly from different generations, knew and greeted one another warmly. Many of the arena's seats were empty as the teams gathered at the benches. Bucknell fans continued to arrive throughout the first half, and by halftime a crowd of about 1,600 was on hand. After a moment of silence honoring the recent passing of Mrs. Bender, for whose family the arena is named, and the introduction of the lineups, the game was on.
The first couple of buckets were inside by centers Tony Wroblicky of American and Mike Muscala of Bucknell. Both teams' disciplined offenses worked hard against a variety of defenses to get close in shots, and since more of its were going in, American gradually moved out to a 12-6 lead. For the remainder of the half, Muscala led the Bison back, scoring 14 to lead his team to within two, 26-24, at the half. (Ryan Hill's missed jumper at the buzzer would have tied the game.) As expected, guards Daniel Muñoz and Troy Bender led the way for American, with five and nine points, respectively, a superhoop each and a nice early dunk by Muñoz. Guard Bryson Johnson had five first half points for Bucknell, including one of the Bison's two superhoops. American primarily held the lead by allowing Bucknell only one shot per possession and getting a number of offensive rebounds.
Halftime saw the recognition of the freshman-dominated American women's volleyball team for being Patriot League champions for the tenth time in the past 11 years and a performance by the American dance team.
Muscala got the second half going with a bucket that tied the game at 26. For the next 12 minutes, no team had a lead larger than two. With about seven minutes to go, Muscala made the first of two free throws, got the rebound from the second miss and converted that into a layup. His teammates Brian Cohen, Bryson Johnson and Cameron Ayers each scored a superhoop before American scored again. The 12-0 run gave Bucknell a ten-point lead.
American tried fouling to stop the clock and get back into the game in the final minute. Despite Bucknell missing five free throws, including the front end of two one-and-one opportunities, it made five of them. American's ten points, including seven by Muñoz, were not enough, and Bucknell won 55‑50 to capture the top seed for, and home-court advantage throughout, the Patriot League tournament.
Muscala ended up with 26 points to lead the Bison to victory, and Johnson's 11 points off the bench made a huge difference. Muñoz and Troy Brewer played well for American, scoring 15 and 13, respectively, and controlling the tempo by slashing to the basket and passing to teammates for open shots. I would not be surprised if this matchup is repeated in the Patriot championship on March 7.
BUCKNELL 55, at AMERICAN 50 02/23/2012
BUCKNELL 21-8 (11-2) -- K. McDonald 5-9 2-2 14; C. Ayers 2-9 2-4 8; M. Muscala 9-21 8-10 26; B. Cohen 1-5 0-1 3; B. Johnson 4-7 0-1 11; R. Hill 0-4 0-0 0; S. Kaspar 0-0 0-0 0; J. Willman 1-6 2-2 4; B. Fitzpatrick 0-0 0-0 0; B. Brackney 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 18-54 12-18 55. AMERICAN 18-10 (9-4) -- T. Brewer 6-12 0-0 13; D. Munoz 5-9 2-2 15; C. Hinkle 1-9 1-2 3; T. Wroblicky 5-7 1-2 11; B. Jolivette 1-11 4-4 6; S. McCormack 1-3 0-0 2; R. Grafft 0-1 0-2 0; J. Schoof 0-0 0-0 0; J. Hill 0-0 0-0 0; D. Fisher 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-52 8-12 50.
Three-point goals: BUCK 7-15 (B. Cohen 1-2; B. Johnson 3-6; C. Ayers 2-4; B. Brackney 1-1; R. Hill 0-2), AMER 4-9 (T. Brewer 1-1; C. Hinkle 0-2; B. Jolivette 0-1; D. Munoz 3-5); Rebounds: BUCK 34 (M. Muscula 14), AMER 32 (T. Wroblicky 8); Assists: BUCK 13 (B. Cohen 2), AMER 9 (D. Munoz 4); Total Fouls -- BUCK 13, AMER 17; Fouled Out: BUCK-None; AMER-None.