LEWISBURG - Joe Willman and Mike Muscala filled the stat sheet for Bucknell on Saturday night against La Salle. Bucknell's frontcourt combined for 36 points, 19 rebounds and nine assists.
It was a small number on the lines of Ryan Hill, Ryan Frazier and Cameron Ayers that allowed all those bigger numbers to exist. Bucknell's guard trio turned the ball over just once each in the face of relentless ball pressure by the Explorers and allowed Willman and Muscala to thrive as the Bison returned to the court after finals week with an impressive 74-66 win.
"We pressured them hard and the pressure did not bother them," said La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini, whose team defeated the Bison, 78-52, in Philadelphia last year. LaSalle (6-2) had a 5-game win streak snapped.
"It certainly made them work harder, but it didn't make them turn it over and it didn't affect their execution," said Giannini. "They were able to get the ball inside and certainly their big guys is where they won the game."
The Bison (9-1) gave the ball away just nine times total, and the ball security allowed the guards to feed Muscala and Willman, who at times executed a flawless high-low game on their way to splitting 36 points evenly. Willman added 12 rebounds and Muscala seven boards and six assists.
"That was a key to our win, taking care of the ball," said Muscala.
Bucknell's frontcourt benefited from La Salle's foul trouble. The Explorers' big man 6-11 Steve Zack picked up two quick fouls in the first 1:30 and played just two minutes in the first half as his team trailed 41-29 at the break. He played 11 more minutes in the second before fouling out with two points and three rebounds.
Zack returned for 38 seconds in the first half after his second foul, but the Bison immediately went inside to Muscala who spun around the careful defense and drove home an emphatic two-handed dunk that brought much of the 3,402 fans to their feet.
Zack's absence allowed the Bison to attack the rim with driving guards and post-ups. And when Bucknell shots were off the mark, Willman kept them alive with four offensive rebounds that helped lead to 16 Bison second-chance points.
"Those points are huge and get the team going," said Willman. "It kills the other team and gets our guys going because coach always stresses toughness plays."
Willman's 18 points and 12 rebounds were both season highs numbers that surprised the La Salle coach a bit.
"I know he is a good player and I know he is capable of doing what he did today, but I just thought we would affect their execution a little bit more and it would be harder for them to get him the ball," said Giannini, whose team led only twice 2-0 and 4-2 before falling behind by as many as 15 points in the first half.
Frazier continued to surprise, as well. The freshman played a season-high 28 minutes and scored 11 points. The 6-0 guard hit a 3-pointer over the 6-11 Zack in the corner with six minutes to play and added the ensuing free throw after Zack's 245 pounds sent him crashing to the floor. Frazier's act of bravery gave the Bison a 14-point lead. La Salle closed to seven with under two minutes remaining before Bucknell, which shot 50 percent, closed the game out.
While Paulsen was pleased with Frazier for his ball handling and offensive output, the coach lauded his guard for his defense against La Salle's Ramon Galloway. The Explorers' second-leading scorer tallied more than four points above his average of 16.6 points a game, but he worked for his 21 points after making 7 of 19 shots.
Tyreek Duren, another player that can break down a defense with dribble penetration, had 14 points.
"All the guards had good looks in the mid-range and we could not hit the shots," said Galloway, whose team had just three assists on their 24 successful baskets. "We had plenty of open shots at the free throw line, but we just couldn't hit."
Bucknell plays Monday at St. Francis (Pa.) before returning home on Wednesday against Marist.
LA SALLE (6-2)
Wright 5-12 0-0 10, Zack 1-2 0-0 2, Duren 5-11 4-4 14, Mills 3-8 0-0 7, Galloway 7-19 4-4 21, Peterson 1-4 1-1 3, Dunn 0-0 0-0 0, Hunt 0-0 0-0 0, Garland 2-6 5-7 9, Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-62 14-16 66.
Willman 9-13 0-0 18, Muscala 7-16 4-6 18, Hill 3-4 1-1 7, Johnson 2-7 2-2 7, Ayers 3-8 2-2 9, Singleton 0-0 0-0 0, Kaspar 0-0 0-0 0, Fitzpatrick 0-1 2-2 2, Frazier 3-6 3-4 11, Hoffman 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 28-56 14-17 74.
Halftime-Bucknell 41-29. 3-Point Goals-La Salle 4-14 (Galloway 3-6, Mills 1-4, Peterson 0-2, Garland 0-2), Bucknell 4-8 (Frazier 2-3, Ayers 1-2, Johnson 1-3). Fouled Out-Hill, Zack. Rebounds-La Salle 31 (Galloway 7), Bucknell 38 (Willman 12). Assists-La Salle 3 (Duren, Mills, Peterson 1), Bucknell 13 (Muscala 6). Total Fouls-La Salle 17, Bucknell 12. A-3,402.