Robertson provides Bison with a spark
LEWISBURG — It all started with a fundamental pump-fake and ended with a dunk that will be highlighted from now until the end of the year and perhaps beyond — and it was delivered by an unlikely source, Bucknell’s Ben Robertson.
When the sophomore guard worked his way around a La Salle defender from near the Bucknell bench and beyond the 3-point line in the second half, the southpaw took one left-handed dribble and began to climb his way to the basket. Waiting on the 6-foot-5 Robertson was La Salle’s 6-6 freshman Dajour Joseph. Joseph firmly planted his feet looking to take a charge, but Robertson was committed. The Bison guard continued to elevate, jumping over Joseph and knocking him to the ground all while dunking the basketball.
When the official brought his hands to his hips to signify a block and made a motion to count the basket a rise came from Robertson’s teammates and the 2,553 inside Sojka Pavilion and silenced a La Salle run that had trimmed a double-digit Bucknell lead to four points with 14:07 left in the second half. The fuel-inducing play ignited a big Bison run which they parlayed into an 88-81 win to close out the non-conference season on Friday night.
“That was a big-time play,” Bucknell center Nana Foulland said. “I saw him rise up and I was like please let it be a block and the ref called the block. It was a great dunk and that sparked us up and we were able to move forward after that.”
Robertson has averaged less than five minutes a game this season but with injuries to guards Kimbal Mackenze and Avi Toomer, Robertson has had a chance to crack the rotation. Though his time was limited again on Friday night to just seven minutes, his one made field goal and ensuing free throw accounted for three important points.
Stephen Brown made another 3-point play on Bucknell’s next possession off a hustle play when he came from out of bounds for an offensive rebound and putback to restore the Bucknell lead to 10 points with 13:27 remaining.
The lead reached 17 points several times over the next 13 minutes and the Bison (6-7) finished pre-Christmas winners of six of nine after starting the season 0-4 against the nation’s 14th-toughest schedule.
Patriot League leading scorer Zach Thomas, who was held scoreless in the first half after receiving a commemorative ball for scoring his 1,000th career point in a pregame ceremony, scored 16 second-half points, including 10 from the foul line as the Explorers tried desperately to make a final run. The senior added 14 rebounds to finish with his fifth double-double of the season.
“He did a good job of playing within himself and taking what they were giving him,” Bucknell coach Nathan Davis said of the nation’s 11th leading scorer. “They were obviously trying to take shots away from him in the first half and we did a good job of playing within ourselves and other guys stepped up and because of that he was able to score 16 in the second half and close it out.”
Foulland put the Bison in position to close it out and was nearly unstoppable inside the paint with a shot the senior can’t even describe. He made 12 of 15 field goals and forced La Salle center Tony Washington to foul out while being limited to 22 minutes. Late in the second half, Foulland scored eight consecutive Bucknell points and allowed the Bison to build a 17-point lead before the Explorers made it a bit of the game late by getting within six points with under a minute remaining.
“It’s something I developed when I was way younger and I guess I didn’t do it the right way,” said Foulland trying to find the words to describe his quirky shot. “I kept with it because it worked for me in high school and into college.”
Foulland scored 19 of his career-high 30 points in the first half, but he had some help from guard Stephen Brown. The senior finished with 11 first-half points and 21 overall to go with seven assists. Brown made La Salle pay three times with 3-pointers as defenders went under high ball screens and was the only Bison with multiple made 3-point field goals.
The Explorers (6-7) were playing short-handed, minus Atlantic 10 leading scorer B.J. Johnson. Memphis transfer Pookie Powell tried to overcome Johnson’s 21.8 points a game and led the Explorers with 29 points. Isiah Deas also attempted to fill the void and scored 24 points, but no other La Salle player had more than eight points.
Bucknell, which was playing at home for just the fourth time in 13 games, finished their non-conference home slate 4-0 and now have won 14 straight games inside Sojka Pavilion dating back to last season.
LA SALLE (6-7)
Washington 4-6 0-0 8, Shuler 0-3 0-0 0, Phiri 2-6 1-2 7, Powell 9-18 9-12 29, Stukes 2-7 1-2 5, Sullivan 0-3 0-0 0, Moultrie 1-2 0-0 3, Deas 8-20 5-5 24, Joseph 2-3 0-0 5. Totals 28-68 16-21 81.
Moore 0-2 0-0 0, Thomas 3-6 10-12 16, Foulland 12-15 6-11 30, Brown 7-15 4-5 21, Sotos 1-4 4-6 6, Meeks 0-1 0-0 0, Sestina 2-2 0-0 4, Jones 2-4 0-0 5, OáReilly 1-2 0-0 3, Robertson 1-2 1-1 3. Totals 29-53 25-35 88.
Halftime–Bucknell 41-34. 3-Point Goals–La Salle 9-25 (Deas 3-8, Phiri 2-5, Powell 2-5, Joseph 1-1, Moultrie 1-2, Stukes 0-1, Shuler 0-3), Bucknell 5-17 (Brown 3-7, Jones 1-2, O’Reilly 1-2, Meeks 0-1, Thomas 0-1, Moore 0-2, Sotos 0-2). Fouled Out–Phiri, Washington. Rebounds–La Salle 29 (Washington 6), Bucknell 38 (Thomas 14). Assists–La Salle 14 (Stukes 6), Bucknell 15 (Brown 7). Total Fouls–La Salle 24, Bucknell 20. A–2,553 (4,000).