My gosh they were good

(Updated: 8:13 a.m.)

Anybody who saw Villanova's game against Kansas knows what the Wildcats are capable of. When Nova is hitting from three-point range, they can put a hurting on anybody, and last night, against Bucknell, the Cats (15-6) did just that, blowing out the Bison 89-51 in front of 6,500 folks in the ski lodge.

It was not a rout from the start. Thanks to Chris McNaughton’s work inside, the Bison led by a point or two most of the first seven minutes of the game. Villanova focused on stopping the Bucknell guards, with McNaughton facing straight man coverage early.

McNaughton rarely sees straight man-to-man in the Patriot League. Most teams opt to double down on him, forcing the Bison (17-8) to score from the perimeter. The way McNaughton scored almost at will against Will Sheridan and Jason Fraser early, you could see why..

McNaughton hit his first six shots, including a bunch of sweet baby hooks and a dunk off a nifty feed from Kevin Bettencourt that tied the game at 17-17 with 12:49 to play in the first half.

McNaughton wasn’t the only one that was hot early. As a team, Bucknell hit six of its first eight shots, including an three-pointer by Charles Lee. Problem for the Bison: Nova was not missing many either. And ‘Nova was scoring from all over the floor. Especially outside the arc, where they connected six times (on 13 tries) in the first half.

“They shot the ball very well in the beginning and that got them going,” said Bucknell coach Pat Flannery.

Three of those treys came during the 18-2 run that Villanova used to break the game open, including two by Nardi, who scored 12 of his 14 points from the arc.

“We knew they were capable of this,” said Bucknell’s Kevin Bettencourt. “We knew if their shooters got going, we were in trouble.”

And then there was Allan Ray. That sleeve on his arm and the first name are not the only things about Ray that remind you of another Philly baller who spells it different but says it the same. Most of the game, Ray just seemed to be able to get his shot from wherever on the floor he wanted it. Ray was 7-for-15 from the floor, including 4-for-9 from three-point range. His one miss, on six foul shots, was the only one of 17 free throws Villanova missed.

Curtis Sumpter was another matchup problem for the Bison, who were clearly outmanned at four of the five spots on the floor. Bucknell could not solve him on either end of the floor. Sure he had a decent night on offense—6-for-11, 14 points, 6 rebounds a pair of blocks and an assist is a pretty good line for 28 minutes of playing time.

“Sumpter we knew was going to be a handful,” said Flannery.

But what was most impressive about Sumpter was the way he played defense, and his uncanny knack for finding a way to be matched up on Bucknell’s Kevin Bettencourt even though the Wildcats switch a lot on defense.

Sumpter is of a species that simply does not exist in the Patriot League. Six-foot-seven, quick as the mascot with plenty of hop, he was the difference in this game. Take Sumpter out of the equation and it is a different game. Not necessarily a Bucknell win; not the way Nova shot the ball. But certainly a better contest.

Matched against the 6-2 Ray and 6-1 Nardi, even 6-3 Randy Foye, Bettencourt and freshman John Griffin might have gotten some decent looks from outside, though Nova’s quickness and athleticism would still be a problem.

Foye, who averages almost 15 points a game, didn’t return after having his bell rung when he landed hard on a failed dunk attempt that was blocked by Abe Badmus with about 10 minutes to go in the first half. Badmus was called for a foul on the play. It was a good call on a hard, but clean play. Had Foye tried to lay it in, he might have landed more under control. In his defense, he seemed alone under the basket and with a step and four inches on Badmus, he probably never expected to be met at the rim.

The fact that it was a clean foul was not appreciated by the Villanova fans, who taunted Badmus with boos every time he touched the ball the rest of the night

Foye was hardly missed. Scoring was no problem for Villanova, who spread the floor and took Bucknell one-on-one, kicking the ball out for open threes or dishing underneath for easy buckets. Nova shot 58 percent (15-26) in the first half, and 53 percent in the second half, with most of the 14 misses (on 30 shots) coming well after the far ends of both benches had hit the floor.

With Sumpter in his face most of the night, Bettencourt never got a clean look at the basket and never came close to making any of the seven shots he took.

Bettencourt doesn’t see 6-7 guys with that kind of quickness in the Patriot League. In conference play, if he gets isolated with a 6-7 guy on the perimeter, he is quick enough to get past them off the dribble. If they lay back, he shoots the three over them.

Sumpter, though, was plenty quick enough to keep up with Bettencourt. “We don’t see guys like that too often in the Patriot League,” laughed Bettencourt. “And you can’t shoot over the guy.”

Bettencourt was not the only one who shot poorly for Bucknell. Take away McNaughton’s 8-for-13 night and the rest of the Bison shot 12-for-49 (24 percent).

“They were so quick,” said Bettencourt. “I don’t think we’ve seen anybody like that.”

“We didn’t have many open looks out there,” said Flannery.

It would be easy to point to Bucknell playing three games in five days as a factor. The Bison did appear to hit a wall around eight minutes in. Even free throws were short most of the night, a sign of weary legs.

Flannery said at one point he looked at his assistants and asked, “Are we that slow or are they that fast.”

But it would be wrong to use that as an excuse. With fresher legs, Bucknell still couldn’t keep up with Villanova’s quickness. Maybe they’d keep it closer for a half. But then again, maybe not, given the way Villanova was shooting.

After all, fresh legs didn’t help Kansas.

Bucknell will take Wednesday off, then begin preparation for Saturday’s trip to West Point.
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