Muscala sets Bucknell scoring record in PL playoff win
LEWISBURG – The words are a staple of March and they flowed as easy as a mountain spring in the summer from the mouth of Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen.
“The mantra this time of the year is survive and advance and we were able to do that,” Paulsen said after his Bison defeated Navy, 58-42, in a Patriot League quarterfinal on Wednesday night at Sojka Pavilion.
Truly last night’s game for the top-seeded Bison wasn’t all that desperate, as they never trailed eighth-seeded Navy and led comfortably throughout as they became the 17th consecutive top seed to win a Patriot League quarterfinal contest.
The Bison (26-5) will host fourth-seeded Army (16-14) in Saturday’s semifinals at 4:30 p.m. Lafayette, the No. 2 seed, will play at home against rival and No. 3 seed Lehigh.
The Mountain Hawks were involved in the closest quarterfinal last night as they rallied past Colgate, 71-64. The Leopards defeated Holy Cross, 77-54, and the Black Knights handled American, 65-44.
Bucknell swept Army during the regular season, but the Black Knights fell by just two points on Feb. 9 after losing by 21 nearly a month earlier.
Mike Muscala combined for 32 points in those two games, and against Navy the Bucknell senior needed just two points to match and three to break the program’s all-time scoring record of Al Leslie (Class of 1981) with 1,973 points.
Muscala, who averages 19.1 points per game this season, opened the scoring last night with a pair of free throws to tie the record and then he heightened the anticipation over two minutes later when he returned to the foul line and missed the first of two shots. The 6-foot-11 center, however, regrouped quickly and let go with career point No. 1,974 with 16:07 left in the first half.
When the first media timeout came with 15:46 remaining in the half, Leslie met Muscala on the floor and the two had a brief exchange and posed for a photograph before an appreciative 2,663 fans recognized the history with an applause.
“It was cool that Al was here and it was cool to do it in front of the home court with this team,” said Muscala, who said he forgot about the record throughout the week before coming to Sojka for the game.
Muscala finished with five first-half points, despite going 0 for 2 from the field as Navy sagged its defense into the paint, sometimes surrounding Bucknell’s leading scorer with three defenders.
Despite keeping Muscala in check offensively for the most part in the first half, the Midshipmen couldn’t take advantage as they shot a woeful 22 percent.
Navy trailed by just 10 at the half, but the Bison gained a healthy separation with an 8-0 run early in the second half. Joe Willman completed the spurt with a jumper and the Bison led 40-23 with 12:51 remaining. The advantage grew to a game-high 23 points after a Muscala free throw and Paulsen was able to rest his starters in preparation for Saturday’s semifinals.
Muscala’s two free throws gave him 15 points, 14 shy of 2,000 for his career. The recently named Patriot League Player of the Year added 13 rebounds for his 20th double-double of the season.
Willman joined Muscala in double figures with 10 points. He added seven rebounds, including four offensive.
“We knew we had to get on the offensive glass because we knew we had a size advantage and the offensive wasn’t really flowing very well,” Willman said. “When that does happen you have to offensive rebound and get to the foul line.”
Bucknell offset its inconsistent offense with 11 offensive boards and 24 attempted foul shots. The Bison made 22 free throws and finished with 16 second-chance points against an always physical Navy defense.
“We did a lot of things that you got to do to win in March,” Paulsen said. “We just have to continue to strive and get better.”
Navy’s physical play led to foul trouble for leading scorer Worth Smith. The sophomore forward, who averaged 10.5 points a game entering last night, collected three first-half fouls and finished scoreless in 7 minutes of play overall. He didn’t start the second half and just 19 seconds into his return, he picked up a fourth foul. The offensive foul was ruled a flagrant foul after a lengthy review by the officials and Willman hit the ensuing free throws to give the Bison a 36-23 lead.
Navy, the league’s lowest scoring team, was held to under 50 points for the fourth consecutive game, including a 62-46 loss four days prior to last night’s game.
Kelly 1-4 3-4 5, Smith 0-3 0-0 0, Dunbar 4-11 1-3 9, Wynn 0-0 0-0 0, Venturini 3-11 0-0 7, Knorr 3-7 1-2 8, Wyatt 0-0 0-0 0, Loupos 0-0 0-0 0, Alter 1-4 0-0 3, Spadaford 0-2 4-6 4, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, Alexander 3-7 0-0 6. Totals 15-49 9-15 42.
Willman 3-5 4-4 10, Muscala 3-6 9-10 15, Kaspar 3-6 1-2 7, Johnson 2-7 2-2 7, Ayers 1-5 0-0 2, Fitzpatrick 1-2 2-2 4, Hill 2-3 0-0 5, Hass 0-0 0-0 0, Frazier 1-6 0-0 2, Brackney 0-3 2-2 2, Hoffman 1-1 2-2 4. Totals 17-44 22-24 58.
Halftime-Bucknell 26-16. 3-Point Goals-Navy 3-13 (Knorr 1-2, Alter 1-4, Venturini 1-5, Spadaford 0-2), Bucknell 2-14 (Hill 1-1, Johnson 1-5, Muscala 0-1, Brackney 0-1, Ayers 0-2, Frazier 0-4). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-Navy 25 (Kelly 7), Bucknell 36 (Muscala 13). Assists-Navy 8 (Dunbar 3), Bucknell 6 (Hill 2). Total Fouls-Navy 19, Bucknell 14. Technical-Bucknell Bench. A-2,663.