Bison back in PL final for 2nd time in 3 seasons

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Bucknell players celebrate their win over Holy Cross in the Patriot League semifinals at Sojka Pavilion on Thursday to advance to the championship game against American on Sunday at noon.

LEWISBURG — With the game in hand and all of its starters on the bench, Bucknell had little else to prove with a 26-point lead late in the fourth quarter. But that didn’t stop the Bison bench from fighting and scrapping on defense and playing patient offense. Bucknell grabbed three offensive rebounds and drew three fouls on one possession which ended with a Taylor O’Brien layup thanks to diligent offense.

The ensuing possession O’Brien dove on the floor, Marly Walls saved the ball from bouncing out of bounds and the possession ended with a Tessa Brugler layup. The 90-second sequence had little bearing on the game, but it perfectly represented Bucknell’s grit on defense and patience on offense and coach Aaron Roussell couldn’t hide his beaming grin.

The Bison’s defense stifled Holy Cross into the lowest scoring output in Patriot League Tournament history as they rolled to a 66-31 win the Patriot League semifinals Thursday night at Sojka Pavilion.

It’s the second time in three seasons that Bucknell advances to the Patriot League championship game.

Bucknell’s 35-point margin is also the largest in tournament history as it held Holy Cross to one of the worst offensive showings in the League’s 29-year history. The top-seeded Bison (27-5) also tied a program record for wins in a season and they will get a chance to break that mark when they host second-seeded American in the Patriot League Championship on Sunday at noon.

“That was a lot of fun to watch these guys fly around the way they did tonight in a game that, honest to God, was completely stressing me out here for a few days. That’s a really good team. That’s a really talented team,” Roussell said.

Holy Cross’s 31 points is the least allowed by Bucknell since a 60-29 win over SUNY Binghamton in the team’s final game of the inaugural 1973-74 season. It’s the third-lowest point total allowed in program history. The Crusaders made just 23 percent of its shots, didn’t score more than 12 points in any quarter and had just 12 points at halftime. They started 2 of 21 from the field, had 12 turnovers before their first assist and finished with 24 turnovers to just eight assists. Holy Cross, which averaged nearly 65 points coming into last night’s game, struggled to get anything going against the league’s second best defense. It made just 2 of 25 from 3 and looked flustered at times, missing layups, air balling jumpers and throwing ill-advised passes.

The Crusaders couldn’t even look to Preseason Patriot League Player of the Year and first-team All-Patriot League selection Lauren Manis because she struggled against Ellie Mack (12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 blocks) and Autumn Ceppi. Mack and Ceppi have the length and athleticism to move with Manis, who coming in was averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds. Last night, Manis posted six points, 14 rebounds and five turnovers. She made just 2 of 14 shots and was frustrated with Mack and Ceppi’s relentlessness.

“That’s about as tough as a cover as we’ve had. Both those guys were in here watching some extra film on tendencies and certain things. We knew she was going to take 14 to 18 shots, that’s what she does,” Roussell said. “We were going to deny her the looks, but we wanted to make sure she had to work for those. I thought those two did a tremendous job.”

Kyi English also helped limit Patriot League Rookie of the Year and third teamer Avery LaBarbera, who was held scoreless for the first time in her collegiate career.

Bucknell’s offense wasn’t so great either, but its defense allowed to buy it some time. After Holy Cross tied the game at four, Bucknell forced 14 straight missed Crusader shots and held them scoreless for nearly 13 minutes of game action. The Bison, still trying to find their offensive footing, took control with a 10-0 run. Holy Cross quickly got within eight, but Bucknell’s offense began to hit shots and the lead quickly ballooned to 19 before halftime. Holy Cross only got within 14 early in the third quarter, but Bucknell countered with a 10-3 run and the lead was up to 21.

After shooting just 31 percent from the floor in the first quarter and scoring 12 points, Bucknell was patient with its looks and hit nearly 50 percent from there on out. Abby Kapp (13 points) and Kaitlyn Slagus (13 points, 7 rebounds, 5 steals) led four players in double figures as Kate Walker (9 rebounds, 2 assists) and Mack each added 12.

“Defensively we were locked in and we knew we had to be,” Walker said. “We knew the offense would come if we just kept pushing on defense.”

“A lot of things weren’t going our way and I know it’s something that we’ve talked about as a staff and as a team all season long was, ‘Hey, we need to make sure that it’s just not our offense that’s creating our defense.’ When we make shots and things are going well offensively, we tend to play the way that we did defensively,” Roussell said. “It’s been a while where it’s been our defense that’s leading into our offense. We weren’t going to shoot poorly forever. …We know those are going to fall for us. We’re a good shooting team. I’m just really proud of the defense that kept us in it.”

Bucknell 66, Holy Cross 31

(PATRIOT LEAGUE SEMIFINALS)

HOLY CROSS (18-13)

Lauren Manis 2-14 2-4 6, Megan Swords 1-4 2-2 4, Avery LaBarbera 0-6 0-0 0, Jenay Faulkner 2-10 0-2 4, Madalyn Smith 1-5 0-0 2, Oluchi Ezemma 3-5 0-0 6, Nicole Morris 2-4 0-0 4, Madison Demski 1-4 0-0 3, Kathryn Pedi 0-0 0-0 0, Miranda Nixon 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 12-53 5-10 31.

BUCKNELL (27-5)

Ellie Mack 4-9 2-2 12, Kaitlyn Slagus 5-10 2-2 13, Kyi English 1-5 0-1 2, Kate Walker 4-8 3-3 12, Abby Kapp 5-6 1-2 13, Taylor O’Brien 2-7 0-0 4, Marly Walls 1-8 0-0 2, Autumn Ceppi 1-2 0-0 2, Rachel Dumiak 0-1 0-0 0, Maegan Mikkelsen 0-1 0-0 0, Tessa Brugler 3-4 0-0 6. Totals 26-61 8-10 66.

Holy Cross 4 8 12 7 — 31

Bucknell 12 16 19 19 — 66

3-point goals: Holy Cross 2-15 (Manis 0-2, LaBarbera 0-3, Faulkner 0-3, Smith 0-2, Morris 1-2, Demski 1-3); Bucknell 6-25 (Mack 2-5, Slagus 1-5, English 0-2, Walker 1-5, Kapp 2-3, O’Brien 0-2, Ceppi 0-1, Dumiak Mikkelsen 0-1). Fouled out: Holy Cross-none. Bucknell-none. Rebounds: Holy Cross 42 (Manis 14); Bucknell 37 (Walker 9). Assists: Holy Cross 8 (Manis 3); Bucknell 16 (English 3). Total fouls: Holy Cross 17, Bucknell 16. Technical fouls: Holy Cross-none. Bucknell-none. A: 855.

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