Bucknell 60, Colgate 59

(Originally posted: Saturday, 9:54 p.m.)

Holy Senior Day, talk about saving your best for last.

Down to the final second of his final regular season game in Sojka Pavilion, Bucknell senior Chris Niesz drained a three-pointer from the top of the arc to give the Bison a hard-fought 60-59 win over Colgate.

Niesz, the lone senior on the Bison roster, was once a rising star for the Orange and Blue. After a freshman season in which he saw action in 18 games, Niesz became a part-time starter as a sophomore, starting seven of the 23 games he played in, averaging almost 20 minutes a game down the stretch and scoring in double figures twice, including a career-high 18 against Navy.

That set the stage for what was expected to be a breakout season for the 6-8 forward, who is known as one of the best pure shooters on the Bison roster. But after starting the first 10 games of his junior season, Niesz broke a bone in his right hand. By the time he came back 11 games later, Bucknell was on a roll, having won 10 of those 11. With a rotation that was had solidified in his absence, Niesz’s minutes in the last seven games were limited.

With all those same guys back this season, Niesz found himself coming off the bench the first 26 games of his final campaign, though he has been averaging over 14 minutes per game. Being Senior Night, though, Niesz got the start, and turned in his best game of the season.

“What a way to go out,” said Bison coach Pat Flannery. “Honest to goodness, he is the first guy on that practice floor every day. Talk about good things happening to good kids.”

It wasn’t just his game-winning three-pointer, though that is the shot he will tell the grandkids about some day. Niesz also made his offensive presence known in the first half, hitting 3-of-4, including the only trey he shot, for 7 first half points.

It was a bookends kind of a night for the skinny kid from Middletown, N.J. Niesz scored Bucknell’s first points of the game, putting back his only miss of the night for a 2-0 lead. And he hit the last shot of the game, setting off a raucous celebration that saw the BU students storm the court as if the Bison had actually won a game that meant something.

Niesz’s game-winner accounted for the only points Bucknell scored in the last five minutes, a stretch that saw them squander a 10-point lead. It came after the Bison wasted three opportunities to score in the last 38 seconds and after Colgate’s Alvin Reed missed the front end of a one-and-one with 10.5 seconds to go that could have given the Raiders a 3-point lead had he made both shots. It was the only 1 of 8 free throws Colgate missed all night.

With Colgate playing a straight up 2-3 zone that Bucknell had problems adjusting to, the Raiders kept Bucknell frozen at 57 while they whittled away at the deficit. With 2:01 to play, Kyle Roemer hit a three-pointer to tie the game, and Andrew Zidar put ‘Gate ahead with a jumper at the :53 mark.

At the other end, Bucknell tried to go inside to Chris McNaughton, who had been almost unstoppable all night, finishing with 16 points. Niesz had the ball baseline on the right side and tried to spin the entry pass in to McNaughton, but the ball took a low bounce and went off McNaughton’s shins out of bounds.

The Bison got a break when Reed stepped on the sideline in front of the Bucknell bench trying to dribble through a trap. But Kevin Bettencourt, who had a tough night from the arc, missed an open three with 14 seconds left, his seventh miss in eight tries (including one with 1:25 to go when the score was tied at 57-57).

Alex Woodhouse got the rebound and got the ball to Reed, who was fouled in desperation near midcourt. Reed’s miss was gathered in by Abe Badmus, who hurried the ball up the floor and got the ball to McNaughton in the low post with good position on the Colgate defense. McNaughton’s baby hook from four feet away appeared to be heading downward toward the basket from the moment it left the 6-11 sophomore’s hand. But Woodhouse, who has springs that can jump right out of the building, swatted it out of the air and the officials ruled it was not goaltending.

Had Woodhouse guided the ball towards midcourt, the game would likely have been over for Bucknell. But his swat propelled the ball out across the right baseline, giving Bucknell one last possession with 1.9 on the clock.

We already told you what happened next. With McNaughton diving to the hole, and Badmus and Bettencourt sprinting to the corners, Niesz was left all alone at the top of the key when his defender went to help on McNaughton.

“I just floated to the top. I got it and I shot it,” said Niesz. “There were two seconds left. I knew once I caught it, I had to shoot it no matter what.”

The win wraps up an unbeaten conference regular season at home for the Bison, who enter next week’s first round matchup with Lafayette riding a nine-game win streak in Sojka, where they have not lost to a conference foe in 14 games, dating back to a Feb. 28, 2003 loss to Colgate.
Box score | Bucknell recap| Colgate recap | AP wrap | Daily Item story

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