Bison men earn first win
LEWISBURG — The trouble Bucknell had unfurling its freshly-minted NCAA tournament banner from the rafters didn’t carry over to the Sojka Pavilion floor during the team’s home opener on Monday night.
After successfully unveiling its banner from its regular season and league tournament championships, the banner recognizing its NCAA tournament berth didn’t want to cooperate as smoothly, as it took a few extra tugs of the rope before taking its place high above the seats on the east side of the arena.
The Bison didn’t need as much encouragement after coming off a difficult 0-4 stretch to begin the season with games at Arkansas, at defending national champion North Carolina and at Maryland. Add a season opener at Monmouth and the Bison played four games in eight days without a win, despite showing plenty of good signs.
The lessons learned on the road paid off Monday night as Bucknell quickly built a double-digit lead against winless Siena and cruised, 115-92.
“Despite our record, we have done a lot of things well but we haven’t gotten over the hump and it was nice to be able to come out and do a lot of things even better and find a way to get a comfortable win,” Bucknell coach Nathan Davis said.
Monday was Bucknell’s ninth consecutive win in its home opener.
“We learned that we have the toughest group of 14 guys in the country,” said junior Nate Sestina about the early-season road trip that included over 4,000 miles. “Day in and day out everybody was locked in and ready to go, especially the transition from losing to Arkansas to UNC. Those couple of practices were some of best of the year and probably some of the best in my three years here.”
The Bison (1-4) built a double-digit lead less than seven minutes into the game against Siena and after the Saints closed to 40-31 with 4:22 left in the first half, the Bucknell lead never dipped below 10 points again. The Bison never trailed in the contest and led by as many as 33 points. The 115 points were a new Sojka Pavilion record and the third-highest total in school history overall.
Zach Thomas set school records in free throws made and attempted on his way to a game-high 25 points. The senior forward has led the Bison in scoring in four of their first five games.
Four other Bison joined in Thomas in double figures, including Nana Foulland (15), Bruce Moore (14), Sestina (14) and freshman Jimmy Sotos (10).
Bucknell shot a touch over 61 percent and hit 100 points after a Sestina jumper with 7:15 remaining, putting the school record of 119 points scored against Colgate from the 1967-68 season in jeopardy. After a Matt O’Reilly 3-pointer with 1:39 left, however, Bucknell was held scoreless.
“I think frankly we have probably played better so far this year than honestly than we did at any point, even at the end, last year,” Davis said. “It hasn’t been good enough, yet, but we have a long way to go. I don’t think we are anywhere near as good as we can be or hopefully will be by the time it is over but we have a lot of work to do.”
Siena (0-4), which had defeated Bucknell in its four previous meetings, including last season, was led by Nico Clareth’s 21 points.
The Saints committed 32 fouls and had two players dismissed before halfway through the second half after picking up their fifth fouls. Starter Evan Fisher played just 15 minutes before fouling out and scored 13 points.
Bucknell’s busy early-season schedule continues on Wednesday night at home against Ball State. It will be Bucknell’s sixth game since the start of the season on Nov. 10.
Fisher 5-8 2-2 13, Huerter 2-3 0-2 4, Smithen 2-3 2-2 6, Shivers 5-10 3-3 13, Clareth 6-16 7-8 21, Oduro 2-2 2-5 6, Degnan 1-3 0-0 2, Friday 1-2 1-1 3, Richard 1-5 0-1 3, Horn 1-2 0-0 3, Bentley 1-2 1-2 4, Penn 5-11 2-4 14. Totals 32-67 20-30 92.
Thomas 3-6 19-22 25, Moore 3-4 6-6 14, Foulland 6-9 3-3 15, Mackenzie 3-5 0-0 9, Brown 2-6 1-2 6, Meeks 4-6 0-0 8, Sestina 6-7 2-2 14, Newman 0-0 0-0 0, O’Reilly 2-4 2-2 8, Robertson 2-2 0-2 4, Sotos 2-3 4-4 10, Jones 0-2 2-2 2, Sechan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-54 39-45 115.
Halftime–Bucknell 56-36. 3-Point Goals–Siena 8-21 (Penn 2-5, Clareth 2-6, Richard 1-2, Horn 1-2, Bentley 1-2, Fisher 1-3, Shivers 0-1), Bucknell 10-20 (Mackenzie 3-5, Moore 2-2, Sotos 2-3, O’Reilly 2-4, Brown 1-2, Meeks 0-1, Thomas 0-1, Jones 0-2). Fouled Out–Fisher, Oduro. Rebounds–Siena 32 (Bentley 6), Bucknell 25 (Thomas 7). Assists–Siena 15 (Clareth 6), Bucknell 24 (Brown 6). Total Fouls–Siena 32, Bucknell 22. A–2,053 (4,000).