Bucknell’s Mackenzie saves best moments for biggest games

LEWISBURG — No situation has been too big for Kimbal Mackenzie. Whether he’s taking an economics exam or is on the hardwood for an NCAA Tournament game, the Bucknell guard has the ability to be at his best in important moments. He’s a two-time member of the All-Patriot League squad, a three-time member of the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll and was recently named the League’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year. It’s no coincidence that the Bison are in the midst of one of their best four-year runs in program history and a major reason why is due to Mackenzie’s “it” factor.

Mackenzie will have another opportunity to play big on a big stage tonight when second-seeded Bucknell heads to Hamilton, New York. to take on top-seeded Colgate in the Patriot League Championship. It’ll be uncharted territory for this current Bison herd as it’ll be the program’s first road postseason game in 10 years. Bucknell is searching for its ninth straight Patriot League tournament win and its third straight Patriot League title.

“He’s got one of those rare abilities to rise to whatever occasion that you have. I wish it’s something that everyone has but that’s not the way it goes. He’s one of the fortunate ones,” Bucknell coach Nathan Davis said. “Whatever his parents did or I don’t know where he learned it but he has the innate ability to raise his game and to play best when he’s needed. We’re fortunate. One of the reasons why we’re playing today is because he’s on our team.”

Though this year he’s had all the pressure as the top returner from a talented 2018 squad, Mackenzie has done this his whole career at Bucknell, even as a freshman. In an NIT game against Monmouth his rookie year, Mackenzie scored 13 points, the second most he scored that season. As a sophomore, he put up 18 points in the Patriot League championship win over Lehigh and 23 in six-point loss to fourth-seeded West Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. In an injury-riddled junior season, Mackenzie returned to the lineup in the Patriot League Tournament and put up 18 points in a quarterfinal win over Loyola and added 10 in a near upset of third-seeded Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament.

All these big moments have been surrounded by clutch jumpers, acrobatic finishes in waning moments and crucial defensive plays. When the cameras are on and the lights the brightest, Mackenzie is at his best.

“Kimbal has this innate ability to put the ball in the hoop. He’s a pest to guard when he’s not on my team in practice. Every time I come out in practice and Coach (Davis) puts me on the blue team and Kimbal on orange, I hate it because I know he’s going to come at me,” Bucknell senior forward Nate Sestina said. “He’s really special and it’s something I’ve really taken advantage of the last four years is being able to play with him and I think that his leadership goes unnoticed because he’s really vocal outside of practice and outside of basketball. If we’re in the cafeteria, he’s talking to guys. If we’re in our apartment, he’s talking to guys. I think that’s something that he has that others don’t.”

This year, Sestina has caught himself in awe watching his roommate work. Mackenzie put up 25 and 27 points in two wins over Lehigh this season. He scored 25 and hit five free throws in the final 25 seconds in a three-point win against Colgate. He also hit two free throws, including the go-ahead one, with 10 seconds left in the regular season finale against Army to give the Bison a share of the Patriot League regular-season title.

His first two postseason games have been far from disappointments as well. He put up 27 points against Holy Cross as he scored Bucknell’s first 10 points when it was struggling offensively to lead it to a 12-point quarterfinal win. In the semifinals against Lehigh, he put up 19 in the first half and was able to constantly answer Lehigh runs with one of his four 3-pointers and he finished with a game-high 25 points.

Mackenzie enjoys the moments where everyone is at their best and the stakes are at their highest. This is when he rises above everybody else, and if the past has told us anything, he’ll do it again tonight on the biggest stage.

“There’s more on the line. It’s more fun just because there’s more at stake and everybody wants it a little bit more,” Mackenzie said. “The feeling of winning is a little bit intensified and losing is obviously intensified, which sucks but just knowing how bad you want that and what’s on the line, it makes it more fun.”