Second half carries Bison

(Originally posted Saturday, 10:20 p.m.)

Who still thinks Bucknell is a lock to win the Patriot League?

If your hand is up, it’s probably because you were not in Sojka Pavilion Saturday night to witness the ugliness that passed for the first half of the Bison’s 63-46 win over Army.

Playing as though they thought they were a lock, at least to blow out the Cadets (2-13, 0-3), if not to win the whole league, the Bison (12-4, 3-0) came out and laid an offensive egg in the first half. Settling for quick jumpers instead of playing its usual patient halfcourt game, Bucknell turned in its worst offensive half of the season.

There have been games in which Bucknell scored fewer points than the 21 they scored in the first half. The Bison only had 20 at the half against Penn and Robert Morris. But both of those games they shot better than the 7-for-30 (23.3 percent) showing they had before the intermission. And both of those games came against teams much better than Army, the No. 330 team out of 330 playing Division I ball in just about every rating system employed, a team that has yet to defeat a Division I foe. Both of those games also came before Bucknell embarked on its current win streak, which stretched to nine with this win.

That win streak, coupled with the way they clobbered Army twice last season (combined score: 131-48), and the way Holy Cross had thumped the Cadets Wednesday night, resulted in an overconfidence on offense that did as much to take Bucknell out of its offensive game as Army’s hustling defense did.

“We tried to win the game from the start,” said Chris McNaughton, Bucknell’s 6-11 center, who was scoreless in the first half. “We can’t do that. We went out there and made two passes and shot. That’s not the way we play.”

“We were trying to win the game with jump shots,” Abe Badmus. “We forgot about Naughty inside. We were undisciplined. That’s not like us.”

It didn’t help any that McNaughton picked up two fouls in the first 10:10 of the half and sat the rest of the stanza. But even without McNaughton on the floor, the Bison enjoyed a significant size advantage on the Cadets, who have one player, 6-11 sophomore stringbean Jimmy Sewell, over 6-6.

“We were taking the first shot instead of the best shot,” said Bucknell assistant coach Nathan Davis, who was pressed into duty running the show when head coach Pat Flannery had to leave town for a family emergency prior to the game. “We were settling for 17-footers and 3-pointers instead of getting the ball inside.”

The result: Army actually had the lead for a big chunk of the first half, and only trailed by 2, 21-19, at the break. Had the Cadets been able to knock down a few open shots of their own, they well could have led at the half. Had Bucknell not played with its accustomed intensity on the defensive end, holding Army to 6-for-22 shooting (27.3 percent) even while struggling on offense, Army probably would have.

In the second half, it didn’t take long to figure out what Davis talked about in the locker room during the break. On Bucknell’s first possession, the ball went inside to McNaughton, leading to Sewell’s third personal and a pair of made free throws.

The ball went in to McNaughton three of the next four trips down the floor, resulting in two more buckets, which combined with a Charles Lee jumper, gave the Bison an 8-0 run to start the half and a quick 10-point lead.

Army managed to cut it to 29-24 on a 3-pointer by Sewell (his only field goal on six tries) with 12:59 to play. But Bucknell answered with an 8-2 run and was never threatened the rest of the way.

McNaughton finished with 12 points, fouling out Sewell and 6-6 Ryan Wallace in the process. Seven of their combined 10 personals came in the first 15 minutes of the second half. McNaughton also had 7 rebounds and a pair of blocks.

Charles Lee, who was 2-for-9 in the first half, was 4-for-6 with a pair of treys in the second, finishing with 15 points to lead all scorers. Lee’s game-high 9 rebounds also helped the Bison outrebound Army 42-32.

Bucknell point guard Abe Badmus also had a big night, scoring 11 points, a season high, and yanking down 8 rebounds, including 5 on the offensive glass.

The Bison’s leading scorer, Kevin Bettencourt, struggled offensively, hitting just 2 of his 12 shots while going 0-for-6 from 3-point range (just the third game this season he did not have a trey). But Bettencourt more than made up for it at the other end, hounding Army’s Matt Bell into a 2-for-10, 7-point night. Bell’s 7 points were half his 14.1 points per game average.

Colin Harris was the only Cadet in double figures, finishing with 14 points.

NOTES: Bucknell played without the services of sixth-man Donald Brown, who was in street clothes at the end of the bench with an unspecified leg injury … Davis is now 1-2 with 1 save when filling in for Flannery … Davis took over the Bison at the half of last season’s 75-25 home win against Army when Flannery took ill, thus the save. Bucknell lost the next two, at Colgate and at Holy Cross, with Davis at the helm.
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