Bison stay calm, reach Patriot League final

LEWISBURG — With just over seven minutes remaining in Bucknell’s Patriot League semifinal matchup with Navy on Sunday afternoon, Bison junior center Nana Foulland knocked down a tough turnaround mid-range jumper and forced the Midshipmen to regroup with a timeout.

The play had nearly everyone in Sojka Pavilion on their feet and buzzing with jubilation, including all those on the Bison bench, as raucous cheers reverberated around the arena. But one of the few people not jumping for joy in that moment was Foulland himself, as he was instead gesturing with his hands and mouth for everyone to calm down. He feared Bucknell (25-8; 16-3 Patriot League) still had a tough fight ahead with Navy (16-16; 10-9 PL), and didn’t want his teammates to lose their focus in all of the excitement.

He was right, they did.

On four occasions the Midshipmen clawed within a point of the lead in the waning moments of the contest, with scrappy play on both ends of the floor. But, to Foulland’s delight, the Bison never lost their concentration or composure and managed to hang on for a 70-65 victory.

With the win, Bucknell hosts the Patriot League Championship on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. against Lehigh, who beat Boston University in double overtime on Sunday afternoon.

“We have said it all season that we don’t want to get too high and we don’t want to get too low,” Foulland said of his calming presence late in the second half. “We don’t want to be putting our heads down when the other team goes on a run, and we don’t want to be too excited when there is still over six minutes left. I just wanted to keep everybody even and cool throughout the game so we could keep our heads and win it.”

Fittingly, it was a perfect pass from a well-guarded Foulland to wide-open Kimbal Mackenzie on the left wing that helped set up the 3-pointer which put Bucknell up by two possessions in the game’s final seconds, essentially sealing the Bison victory.

“That was a good pass,” Mackenzie said. “At that point it was just in the moment, and that is a shot that I usually take if I catch it there during a game, so I just stepped up and shot it.”

The flawless pass was just one of the many contributions Foulland made during the contest. He also finished as Bucknell’s second-leading scorer with 18 points, knocking down five field goals and going 8 for 10 from the line. He also added four rebounds, two blocks and a steal.

He did all that despite seeing just 24 minutes on the floor, and only six minutes in the entire first half, as foul trouble became an issue early on in the contest.

“In the second half, I was trying not to get my third foul too early. But at the same time, it is hard to stay aggressive on defense when you are playing with foul trouble,” said Foulland. “I just tried my best to stay straight up and play solid defense. I got caught in a couple, but I am just glad I was able to finish out the game.”

Thomas, who led the Bison with 22 points, also saw less playing time than he was hoping for due to foul issues, playing just 11 minutes in the first half.

However, neither player used that as an excuse to not get the job done.

“We knew the moment and we knew what time it was,” added Foulland. “Zach told me that we were well-rested in the first half, so we had to let it all out there. We didn’t want to think about it too much; we just wanted to get on the court and do what we can to win the game.”

“It was frustrating getting those fouls when you are feeling so good in the offensive flow,” said Thomas. “But stuff like that happens, and our guys had our back. They were able to keep it close in that first half and we just kept on fighting.”

After thrashing Navy by 22 points during its regular-season finale last week, Bucknell seemed poised to do much of the same at the onset of Sunday’s game.

The team jumped out to a quick 11-point lead just seven minutes in, starting on a 9-0 run. The Bison dictated the action on both sides of the floor.

But after getting knocked back on their heels early, the Midshipmen came storming back by playing aggressive in the paint and ultimately ended the first half with a 32-31 lead. The back-and-forth struggle between the two teams continued throughout the remainder of play.

“They clearly gave us everything we could handle tonight. As we expected, they were well-prepared and they were physical,” said Bucknell head coach Nathan Davis. “They made it a fight, and fortunately we have enough good players that they managed to stick together and find a way to win the game.

“It is all about winning and advancing, and that is what we have done,” added Davis. “Now we have the opportunity to win one more.”

The biggest change Navy made from last week’s big loss to Bucknell to Sunday’s performance was its ability to bring in offensive rebounds, which helped it get off 20 more shots than the Bison managed. Unfortunately for the Midshipmen, those extra shots were for naught, as the group managed to knock down an abysmal 32 percent of their shots.

“They were very aggressive on the offensive glass, and I don’t think we did a very good job of finishing plays and boxing out,” said Davis. “We were lucky, let’s be honest. Anytime a team gets off 20 more shots than you and take more free throws than you, you are probably in trouble.

“To our credit, I think this shows the kind of character our guys have,” added Davis. “On those 21 offensive rebounds, they only got seven second-chance points, so we didn’t stop and give them easy shots. We kept scrambling around to try and make it hard, and that is what allowed us to win.”

Though he knows his group’s impending showdown with Lehigh on Wednesday will be against a team that has bested his Bison twice already this season, Davis doesn’t believe history will dictate what happens in the next meeting between the two.

“First off, you have to recognize that they have a very talented team,” Davis said. “They are a lot like us in that they have a lot of multiple options offensively to score, they have good athletes defensively, and they are well-coached.

“I don’t think that what happened in the last two games has any impact on what is going to happen at all,” he added. “It is about us going out there and executing. We have to do a great job defensively with our communication and we have to play together. If we do those things I like our chances against anybody.”

BUCKNELL 70, NAVY 65

NAVY (16-16)

Lacey 2-6 1-3 5, Alade 1-2 0-2 2, Abdullah 2-11 2-3 6, Anderson 8-17 5-7 21, Dulin 4-10 5-5 15, Kiernan 0-12 7-8 7, Wieck 1-2 0-0 2, Abruzzo 2-3 0-0 4, Fox 1-2 1-2 3, Pearson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-65 21-30 65.

BUCKNELL (25-8)

Thomas 8-13 5-6 22, Foulland 5-6 8-10 18, Brown 2-8 0-0 4, Toomer 0-1 0-0 0, Mackenzie 2-7 2-2 7, Moore 1-3 4-4 6, MacLeay 2-3 0-0 4, Sestina 1-1 3-5 5, Azzinaro 1-3 0-0 2, Jones 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-46 22-27 70.

Halftime–Navy 32-31. 3-Point Goals–Navy 2-16 (Dulin 2-5, Abruzzo 0-1, Fox 0-1, Anderson 0-1, Abdullah 0-3, Kiernan 0-5), Bucknell 2-12 (Thomas 1-3, Mackenzie 1-5, Azzinaro 0-1, Brown 0-3). Fouled Out–Wieck. Rebounds–Navy 33 (Lacey 8), Bucknell 27 (Sestina 6). Assists–Navy 7 (Abdullah 4), Bucknell 11 (Thomas 5). Total Fouls–Navy 24, Bucknell 28. Technicals–Toomer. A–2,731 (4,000).

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