LEWISBURG - Bucknell's Cameron Ayers slid on the wooden floor at Sojka Pavilion, as if he was sliding into home plate, after securing a late game rebound and dribbling up court before being fouled. Once he arose to his feet, the senior unloaded an audible, woo.
The verbal release of emotion appeared to be an expression of excitement more than a show of a moment of relief that comes with a wipe of the brow and a woo.
But if there was a twinkle of the latter, no one would blame him.
The Bison needed to survive a late game-winning, 3-point attempt by Justin Burrell of Holy Cross on Saturday afternoon to pull out a 61-57 win over the Crusaders, Bucknell's third consecutive victory after suffering three straight defeats.
"We really try to sell to our guys to win pretty or win gritty and this was more the second category today," Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen said.
The Bison dug themselves an early hole for the second time in three Patriot League home games. Unlike the first time against American, however, the Bison didn't panic and wilt.
Trailing 26-13 with 6:07 remaining in the first half, the Bison (8-7, 3-1 Patriot League) responded with a 16-3 run to close the half and tie the game. Ben Brackney kick-started the run with one of his two 3-pointers. The senior ended it with a trio of free throws which tied the game at 29-all.
"I really tried to keep the guys calm because usually in the past we'd panic like coach said, but I'm really proud of the guys today because we stuck through it and dug it out," Ayers said.
Brackney finished with a team-high 13 points. It was the second consecutive game he led Bucknell in scoring and he has 38 points in his past two games after scoring 88 in his previous 13.
Ayers, Bucknell's leading scorer, scored the first five points of the second half and Chris Hass added a bucket to give the Bison its largest lead of the game, 36-29. Holy Cross bounced back and led by three with 4:34 left, but a Hass layup with 2:26 left resulted in the game's final lead change.
Ayers finished with 10 points and seven rebounds and Hass scored nine and added six boards.
Bucknell's inside duo of Brian Fitzpatrick and Dom Hoffman combined for eight points and just three rebounds, but held their own against Holy Cross 6-foot-9 center Dave Dudzinski by keeping the Crusaders' leading scorer off the block and making him shoot over the top. Dudzinski, who averages 16.5 points a game, made just 2 of 9 shots and finished with seven points.
"They didn't show up on the scoreboard and score a lot of points but Fitzpatrick and Hoffman did a great job inside on Dudzinski and made it challenging for him to get some catches and I think that was important," Paulsen said.
Malcolm Miller led Holy Cross (7-9, 1-3) with 19 points. The 6-7 junior proved to be a hard guard near the basket with his long wingspan which allowed him to swoop the ball around potential shot-blocking defenders. His career day included a highlight-reel alley-oop dunk that nearly had the Holy Cross bench spill onto the court in the first half.
Burrell (13) and Anthony Thompson (10) gave Holy Cross three players in double figures, despite missing second-leading scorer Cullen Hamilton because of injury.
"I was excited to see us in a fist fight," Holy Cross coach Milan Brown said. "That is what league play is.
"We're growing as a team and some of our young guys are stepping up and making plays and with us down two guys we usually play more guys than this but we're pretty banged up right now and I think that played a part, too."
Reserves John Azzinaro, Ryan Hill and Ryan Frazier helped Bucknell win the bench battle, 21-2. The three also helped limit the penetration of Burrell and Thompson, keeping the ultra-quick kids in the perimeter after a fast start.
Bucknell will play at Navy and Army over the next week before returning home to play Patriot League newcomer Loyola (Md.) on Jan. 22.
HOLY CROSS (7-9)
Miller 8-13 1-2 19, Green 3-12 0-2 6, Dudzinski 2-9 2-2 7, Thompson 4-10 0-0 10, Burrell 6-16 1-2 13, Reid 0-1 0-0 0, Alexander 1-1 0-0 2, Abt 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-62 4-8 57.
Fitzpatrick 3-4 0-0 6, Brackney 3-5 5-5 13, Kaspar 1-4 0-0 2, Hass 4-9 1-2 9, Ayers 3-10 2-2 10, Azzinaro 2-4 0-0 4, Hill 2-4 3-4 7, Frazier 3-5 2-2 8, Hoffman 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 22-49 13-15 61.
Halftime-Tied 29-29. 3-Point Goals-Holy Cross 5-17 (Miller 2-2, Thompson 2-5, Dudzinski 1-3, Reid 0-1, Green 0-2, Burrell 0-4), Bucknell 4-14 (Brackney 2-4, Ayers 2-5, Kaspar 0-1, Hass 0-2, Azzinaro 0-2). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-Holy Cross 33 (Miller 9), Bucknell 32 (Ayers 7). Assists-Holy Cross 6 (Burrell 3), Bucknell 11 (Kaspar 6). Total Fouls-Holy Cross 12, Bucknell 13. A-3,006.