They're calling it Bison Mania

Last updated: 9:19 a.m.

Subplots and sidebars from Bucknell's 59-43 win over Holy Cross Saturday ...

NOTE: Our Bucknell-Holy Cross game stories were posted Saturday evening. You can scroll down for them, or jump there with a click of your mouse.

ON THE BANDWAGON: Bucknell's status as media darlings was further enhanced Saturday by the presence of a couple papers that are infrequent visitors, at best, to the Patriot League overall, let alone to Lewisburg.

Bonnie DeSimone was there stringing for the New York Times and filed this nice piece about the Bison's emergence.

Also visiting Sojka for the first time this season was David Jones, of The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News. Dave doesn't cover Bucknell regularly. He spends most of his time chronicling the struggles of Penn State or watching Big 5 ball in Philly.

But he is not unfamiliar with the Bison, or Bucknell coach Pat Flannery. His Bison Mania story helps explain how the Bucknell phenomenon has come to be.

FLU FACTOR: A flu bug hit Bucknell during the week. Charles Lee, Chris Niesz and Kevin Bettencourt each missed a couple days practice during the week.

The rest of the team was treated given some sort of medicine (it was not clear if it was actually the flu vaccine) and Flannery says the doctor tells him if there are no new outbreaks by early in the week, the rest of the team should be in the clear.

The Bison were worried beforehand about how long and hard those three would be able to go. Against a physical team like Holy Cross, there were concerns they might run out of gas in the second half.

Lee went 34 minutes, finishing with 12 points and a team-high 7 rebounds. Bettencourt had 17 points and played 37 minutes.

Niesz, though, played only five minutes, well below his average of 15.

That really didn't hurt the Bison, though. If there is one spot where they have the depth to withstand illness or injury, it is at the four, where Flannery rotates what he calls his "three-headed monster" of starter John Clark, Niesz and sophomore athletic 6-6 Donald Brown.

Brown doesn't score a lot of points. He averages 3.5 a game and was right there with four Saturday. But the former starter plays well off the bench. A strong rebounder and tenacious defender, he might even be the most talented of the three.

Brown drove the nail in for Bucknell in the second half. In a one minute stretch, Brown plucked a blocked Charles lee layup attempt out of the air and put it back for Bucknell's third field goal of the half.

That, by the way, came with just 5:26 to go, after a nine-and-a-half minute stretch in which Bucknell went without a field goal. During that stretch, Bucknell's lead shrank from 11 to 1, then grew back to 9 on Brown's shot.

Brown made two possessions later, after Bucknell got a pair of stops when first Brown made a steal and then Brown blocked a Torey Thomas layup.

When Bucknell came back up the floor Brown drove the lane and ended Nate Lufkin's afternoon when the Holy Cross center tried to draw a charge and picked up his fifth foul instead.

Brown hit both free throws to put Bucknell's lead back in double digits.

Facing a 48-37 deficit, with Lufkin sitting at the far end of the bench, the proverbial wind gushed out of the Crusaders sails.

MC-OTT-(then)-ON: Bucknell's All-League center Chris McNaughton struggled offensively in the first half. Even with Lufkin playing only five minutes in the half due to foul trouble, McNaughton was scoreless at the intermission and had only taken two shots.

Part of that was because Holy Cross freshman Tim Clifford gave Willard nine strong minutes off the bench in the first half. Clifford was no offensive threat. But the 6-10, 265-pounder managed to frustrate McNaughton, doing a nice job of pushing McNaughton off the blocks. (Mysteriously, Clifford only played two garbage time minutes in the second half)

A bigger factor was Holy Cross' help defense. Every time the ball went in to McNaughton, somebody came with the double.

"That's the Patriot League for you," said McNaughton. "It's not Pitt anymore. It's not the Big East where they let me play.

They just played one-on-one on me. I mean, they've got some strong kids, but they don't double-team me. Here ... the team defense is more focused. They like to double-team on me. I didn't really respond to it as I maybe could have."

In the second half, McNaughton was more assertive, beginning with a dunk for the first points of the half. McNaughton finished with 9 points, most coming from the foul line, where he was 5-for-8.

"I thought he adjusted to it in the second half," said Flannery. "He decided he was going to be a factor and the second half, he was a factor."

TEA LEAVES: Before anybody reads too much into this game, keep in mind Bucknell won the first meeting of the two last season, at home by 10, then got it handed to them in Worcester in the second half of the season.

In the game preview package, we talked about looking at those box scores from last year. One thing we noticed, the team that got to the foul line the most won each time. We didn't mention it then because it is not an unusual occurrence.

We mention it now as a reminder more of the difference in officiating at home and on the road. Last year in Lewisburg, Bucknell shot 35 foul shots to 21 for HC. IN Worcester the difference was 40-27 with the Crusaders on top.

Willard wasn't griping about the officials in this game (who were bad pretty much both ways) when he said it. But the comment he made when asked about Bucknell's feat of beating both St. Joe's and Pitt in their buildings illustrates what we are saying.

"Let's be honest about it," Willard said. "I've been at both levels and we all know that when you go on the road -- Bucknell got a decent whistle (in the Pitt game) -- but the close calls the end of the game don't go your way. That's just a flat out truth. And they fought through that and won the game."

Willard said that says a lot about the psyche of this Bucknell team.

"To me, that shows where they are mentally as a basketball team," Willard said. "They're in a very good spot right now, mentally."

THE ART OF WAR: Nobody was expecting a Picasso and nobody was letdown. The game was exactly what everyone expected between two defense minded teams.

"It was a war out there with the kids. It was a tough game to officiate; a tough game to play, " Flannery said. "Both teams are very good defensive teams. We both know each other very well. We take away a lot of stuff from each other."

These two were meeting for the seventh time in less than three seasons, having met twice in the regular season, and in the playoffs as well each of the last two seasons.

"These are halfcourt games," said Bettencourt. "It wasn't going to be an up-and-down pretty game. You know that going against Holy Cross."

How ugly did it get: Both teams had more turnovers (19 each) than field goals (14 each).

"We played each other six times over the last two years. We know what to expect," Bettencourt said. "They sometimes know where you are going before you do."

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