LEWISBURG - Nearly midway through the second half on Thursday night, the Bucknell men's basketball team trailed visiting American by 17 points and was stumbling to a third consecutive loss to a sub-.500 team. A 12-0 run, however, brought life into the Bison and the 2,367 fans who braved the snow to attend the Patriot League opener for both teams.
The Bison eventually cut their once 17-point deficit to four points on two occasions, but baskets continued to be hard to come by for Bucknell at crucial times and it suffered another agonizing loss, 67-57.
"All we can do is keep plugging along," Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. "That's what we are going to do. This group is working hard and trying but they have to find a way to have some success and get over the hump."
The Bison (5-7, 0-1 Patriot League) needed to be near perfect in the final minutes because they fell behind by nine points in the game's first four minutes and trailed by 10 at the half. The deficit grew to 47-30 with 10:42 remaining on a Darius Gardner layup.
A 12-0 run punctuated by a Chris Hass 3-pointer in front of the Bucknell bench closed Bucknell to within five points with 6:37 remaining and brought the Bison bench and crowd to their feet. A couple of minutes later, Hass buried a 3-pointer from the opposite corner and Bucknell trailed by just four.
Needing a basket to stall the Bucknell momentum, American went right into center Tony Wroblicky in the post. The poised left-handed senior calmly delivered in the paint and put his team up six with 3:45 remaining
A Ben Brackney 3-pointer with 48 seconds remaining again brought Bucknell to within four points, but the Eagles (5-7, 1-0) hit nine consecutive free throws before missing their final attempt to seal the game.
Two separate sequences during the Bucknell rally showed the Bison effort is where it needs to be, but finding a finishing touch has been a struggle for a team which hasn't scored more than 70 points since a Nov. 23 win over Albany, a span of seven games.
The first came with 5:55 remaining when on one possession the Bison, who had just one offensive rebound in the first half despite missing 15 shots, collected two offensive rebounds and missed three shots before committing a foul and sending American to the line. The second came with the Bison down eight with under two minutes remaining. Ryan Hill forced a turnover in the backcourt but he couldn't convert the ensuing layup and American worked a well-executed backdoor cut off a Wroblicky pass on its next possession for a 10-point lead.
Wroblicky finished with a double-double, scoring a game-high 24 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
"We wanted to get Tony touches as much as possible because he is an important part of our offense and it helps everyone else to be able to score by getting him the ball," American first-year coach Mike Brennan said.
The 6-foot-10 center also added six blocks and five assists, many off backdoor cuts that led to easy layups and allowed the Eagles to shoot 54 percent.
"He was a load down there tonight," said Paulsen, who shuffled in defenders trying to slow the 230-pound Wroblicky.
Gardner and John Schoof each played all 40 minutes and scored 11 points apiece. Marko Vasic was solid off the bench for American with eight points, five rebounds and three assists.
Cameron Ayers again emptied the tank for Bucknell and scored 17 points. Hass led the Bison with 18. Ayers and Hass scored 35 of Bucknell's 57 points and attempted 32 of the team's 54 shots. In all, 11 of the 12 Bison who played scored but no Bucknell player outside of Hass and Ayers scored more than four points.
"We got scoring from 11 different guys, but we had two legitimate scorers and that's the problem," Paulsen said.
Bucknell will attempt to ends its three-game losing streak on Sunday at Sojka Pavilion against Colgate. The Raiders dropped their league opener in double overtime to Lehigh last night.
AMERICAN U. (5-7)
Ky. Kager 2-2 4-4 9, Wroblicky 8-12 8-12 24, Gardner 3-6 5-6 11, Reed 2-6 0-2 4, Schoof 3-7 3-6 11, Carroll 0-2 0-0 0, Vasic 3-4 2-3 8, Yiljep 0-0 0-0 0, Elcano 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-39 22-33 67.
Fitzpatrick 0-4 1-2 1, Kaspar 1-3 0-2 2, Hass 5-11 5-6 18, Frazier 1-3 0-0 3, Ayers 7-21 1-2 17, MacLeay 0-1 0-0 0, Singleton 1-1 0-0 2, Azzinaro 2-3 0-0 4, Hill 0-2 4-6 4, Starkey 0-0 1-2 1, Brackney 1-4 0-0 3, Hoffman 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 18-54 14-22 57.
Halftime-American U. 30-20. 3-Point Goals-American U. 3-9 (Schoof 2-4, Ky. Kager 1-1, Reed 0-1, Carroll 0-1, Gardner 0-2), Bucknell 7-18 (Hass 3-7, Ayers 2-6, Frazier 1-1, Brackney 1-3, Kaspar 0-1). Fouled Out-Azzinaro, Brackney. Rebounds-American U. 34 (Wroblicky 11), Bucknell 29 (Ayers 8). Assists-American U. 14 (Wroblicky 5), Bucknell 9 (Ayers, Hill, Hoffman 2). Total Fouls-American U. 17, Bucknell 24. A-2,367.