Bucknell 59, Holy Cross 43 (Telegram-Gazette version)

Here's my game story for the Worcester Telegram-Gazette

Special to the Telegram-Gazette

LEWISBURG, Pa. -- Holy Cross came into its Patriot League opener at Bucknell with a simple three-part game plan.

The Crusaders went 0-for-3 on that checklist and the result was a 59-43 loss (box score) at the hands of the preseason league-favorite Bison and an 0-1 start in conference play.

“Our game plan was to go inside and go right at them and I think we threw the ball inside four times in the first half,” said Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard. “We had two things defensively we had to do: get back in transition and not put them at the free throw line. In the first half, they had 18 points in transition and 10 from the free throw line.”

The result was a 30-18 halftime deficit that the Crusaders (8-5, 0-1) were unable to overcome.

“Out of 30 points they had 28 from the two things we said we weren’t going to let them do,” said Willard. “We laid an egg. They made an omelet.”

Actually, it would have been hard to make an omelet out of that egg. You probably would have needed to scrape the broken egg off the floor first. If it didn’t make a mess clanging off the rim – Holy Cross was 6-for-23 (26.1 percent) from the field in the first half – it certainly would have shattered on the floor from one of the Crusaders 11 first half turnovers (19 total).

The second half was not much prettier. The Crusaders did manage to cut the Bucknell lead to one about midway through the second half. But Bucknell responded with a 10-0 walk (all but two of the points came at the free throw line, so you could hardly call it a run) and the Crusaders never got closer the 9 the rest of the way.

By the time the game was over, Bucknell had made that walk to the free throw line 37 times, making 26. Bucknell was hardly an offensive juggernaut. Holy Cross held them to 14 field goals the whole afternoon (14-of-34, 41.2 percent). But between a defensive effort that held the Crusaders to 14-of-50 (28 percent) shooting night, their worst offensive showing of the season, and Bucknell’s free throw shooting, the HC defensive effort hardly mattered.

“Bucknell did a great job shooting free throws,” Willard said. “They beat us by 16 points at the free throw line.”

It was hardly coincidental the Bison won the game by the same margin.

“You can’t work hard on defense and then wind up letting them shoot free throws, and that is what we did,” said Willard. “They killed us at the free throw line.”

You would have to go back to the 56-40 loss at Louisville on Dec. 7, 2003, to find a poorer offensive showing by the Crusaders. Only in a 46-42 loss to Colgate in 2002 has Holy Cross scored fewer points in a league game since Willard became the Crusaders coach.

“We didn’t execute,” said HC’s junior guard Kevin Hamilton, the Crusaders lone bright spot offensively. Hamilton finished with 17 points. No other Crusader had more than 7.

“We anticipated the defenses they played. We were prepared for that,’ Hamilton said. “We just didn’t execute.”

A big part of the Crusaders offensive problems could be traced to Nate Lufkin’s foul trouble. Lufkin, Holy Cross’ only legitimate weapon in the paint, played only 16 minutes before fouling out. With Lufkin on the floor, Bucknell’s guards had to double down to help every time the Crusaders threw him the ball. One on one against Bucknell’s Chris McNaughton, Lufkin was almost unstoppable, missing only one shot.

The problem was, between his foul problems and Bucknell’s double teams, he only took three shots all afternoon. Lufkin played just five minutes in the first half, taking a seat after picking up two quick fouls.

Lufkin picked up his fourth personal on a questionable call while trying to block a shot with 12:35 to play. At that point, Holy Cross was down 6 and in the midst of the 10-0 run that cut Bucknell’s lead to 38-37 with 11:14 to go.

“It affects us a lot (when Lufkin sits). You saw what he did when he did get the ball in the second half,” said Willard. “He hit some shots. Even when he didn’t, he made some good things happen. He was kicking the ball out and we had some open shots. We didn’t make them, but we had some open shots.”

Kevin Bettencourt led Bucknell with 17 points, including three treys. Charles Lee added 12, five from the free throw line.

The win was Bucknell’s seventh in a row. Holy Cross lost for just the second time in six games.

The Crusaders will look to rebound Wednesday when they visit Army.

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