LEWISBURG - Bucknell head coach Dave Pauslen didn't need to watch his team play on Wednesday night to realize the Bison lacked two things - a level of focus and edge to their game. Two numbers told the fifth-year coach all he needed to know.
The Bison were outrebounded by 11 in the first half and made 65 percent of their foul shots in the second. The two staples of the Bucknell program and the reason the Bison won 10 of their first 11 games were a bit skewed on Wednesday night, but neither prevented Bucknell from defeating Marist, 71-65, at Sojka Pavilion.
"That was an incredibly mediocre performance by our team and disappointing," said Paulsen, whose team typically outrebounds its opponent by nine boards a game and shoots 77 percent from the foul line. "To our guys' credit, we came up with enough stops down the stretch and toughness plays to win."
The Bison (11-1), winners of six consecutive games, were playing their third game in five days that had a road game at St. Francis in Loretto sandwiched in between home games against La Salle on Saturday and Marist last night. Paulsen didn't want to offer the compact schedule as an excuse.
"I hope what this game shows our guys is that there is an incredibly thin line between excellence and mediocrity and you got to jump over that line every single day," Paulsen said.
Marist (4-7) came to Bucknell minus 7.9 in rebounding average during its first 10 games, but didn't show that type of deficiency in the first half last night. The Red Foxes outrebounded the Bison, 25-14, in the first 20 minutes and had six offensive rebounds to none for the Bison. That discrepancy allowed Marist to lead in second-chance points 11-0 and was the biggest reason the teams went to the locker room tied at 37-37.
"You really have to tip your hat to Marist," Paulsen said. "They didn't play like a 4-7 team."
The Red Foxes have shown throughout the year the capability of playing at a high level. They own solid wins over Columbia and Vanderbilt, but have baffling losses like a 34-point defeat to Army, who was predicted to finish sixth in the Patriot League this season.
Bucknell, who was the preseason pick to finish second in the Patriot League, came out and scored eight of the first 10 points in the second half, but never could shake the Red Foxes.
A Mike Muscala free throw gave the Bison a seven-point lead, their biggest of the night, but Marist went on a 17-5 run to take a five-point lead with 8:51 remaining.
A pair of Jay Bowie free throws with 5:04 remaining gave Marist its final lead after Bucknell took a quick one-point advantage. Cameron Ayers tied the score for the 14th time with a free throw and the Bison finally delivered a pair of defensive stops on tired legs to give themselves a chance to secure the lead for good.
First Joe Willman blocked a Bowie jumper at the top of the key for his lone block and Muscala delivered one of his five blocks less than a minute later.
"We always preach three consecutive stops and as coach said that is a big staple in our program," Ryan Hill said. "We focus on the defensive end so much and with that pressure with nine minutes to go in the game, defensive stops were very key and that is what we were preaching."
In between the Muscala and Willman blocks, Bryson Johnson made two of three free throws after he was knocked down at the feet of his teammates on the bench shooting a 3-pointer to give Bucknell a 60-58 lead. Cameron Ayers hit a 3-pointer in front of the Bison bench for a five-point lead, but while Marist closed to a single possession three more times the Bison closed out the six-point win, despite making 13 of 20 foul shots in the second half.
"Happy to come out with a win and proud our guys for their resolve and grit down the stretch, but I'm concerned about the level of focus and execution," Paulsen said.
Muscala finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks and four assists. Bucknell's team leader in scoring, rebounds, assists and blocks has seven double-doubles this season.
Willman added 15 points and Ayers fought through early foul trouble to play 29 minutes and finish with 12 points.
Marist put five players in double figures. Devin Price and Bowie each finished with 13 points. Chavaughn Lewis, the team's second-leading scorer, reached his average of 11.9 points with 12, but he was 2 of 14 from the floor.
Bucknell will receive two full days off before playing at Princeton on Saturday.
Kemp 1-5 0-0 2, Price 4-15 4-4 13, Morton 2-6 0-0 5, Bowie 5-9 2-2 13, Lewis 2-14 8-9 12, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, Curry 4-6 0-0 10, Prinsloo 0-0 0-0 0, Truog 4-5 2-2 10. Totals 22-60 16-17 65.
Willman 6-12 3-4 15, Muscala 7-15 12-13 26, Hill 3-4 1-3 7, Johnson 1-5 2-5 5, Ayers 4-10 2-4 12, Kaspar 0-3 0-0 0, Fitzpatrick 0-0 0-0 0, Hass 0-0 0-0 0, Frazier 1-3 0-0 3, Brackney 0-0 0-0 0, Hoffman 1-4 1-1 3. Totals 23-56 21-30 71.
Halftime-Tied 37-37. 3-Point Goals-Marist 5-18 (Curry 2-3, Morton 1-3, Bowie 1-4, Price 1-5, Truog 0-1, Lewis 0-2), Bucknell 4-12 (Ayers 2-6, Frazier 1-2, Johnson 1-3, Kaspar 0-1). Fouled Out-Kemp. Rebounds-Marist 37 (Lewis 8), Bucknell 35 (Muscala 13). Assists-Marist 10 (Curry, Lewis, Morton 3), Bucknell 16 (Johnson, Muscala 4). Total Fouls-Marist 24, Bucknell 16. A-2,724.