Bison dominate with defense

(Originally posted: Sunday, 5:05 p.m.; Updated with links at 8:19 a.m.)

LEWISBURG, Pa. – If defense truly does win championships, the Bucknell is definitely ready for a shot at the crown. Two days after setting a Patriot League Tournament record by holding Lafayette to 34 points, Bucknell turned in what was actually an even better defensive showing, knocking off No. 3 seed American 53-35 to gain a spot in Friday’s conference final

The Bison clamped down on team coaches will tell you has the most offensive talent in the league, holding AU to its lowest point total since the Eagles joined the Patriot League. You would have to go back to February 21, 2001 to find a lower tally on the AU side of the scoreboard (32 in a loss at Richmond). The Eagles had not been held below the 51 it scored at Missouri all season.

“It was a tough day for us,” said American coach Jeff Jones.

And how. The Eagles shot 28 percent from the field, 23 percent in the second half. They actually had as many turnover, 13, as field goals.

“We never got anything going offensively,” Jones said. “We had a lot of difficulty putting the ball in the basket.”

To be fair, Bucknell was not exactly an offensive juggernaut. The Bison actually had more turnovers, 17, than field goals. But Bucknell got to the foul line 26 times (hitting) 19 and they outrebounded American 42-22, including a 14-6 advantage of the offensive glass.

In the second half, after leading by just 18-16 at the break, Bucknell’s physical nature took over. Sparked by senior Chris Niesz, the Bison used a 16-5 run to take control.

Run might be the wrong word. It was more like a slow grind, stretched out over a span of almost seven minutes. It started with a pair of free throws by freshman Darren Mastropaolo that put the Bison up by three and ended with a Mastropaolo layup off a Niesz assist that made the margin 36-24 with 12:02 to play. Niesz also assisted on the John Griffin three-pointer that put Bucknell up by 10 and scored 5 points of his own in that stretch.

After that, it was all but over.

“They just wore us down,” Jones said.

Andre Ingram, AU’s first team all league pick and the league’s leading scorer, cut Bucknell’s lead back to 7 with a short jumper at the 11:44 mark and a trey 4:30 later that made it 36-29. But those were his only buckets of the game and he quickly returned to the side of the milk carton where he had spent most of the afternoon.

It was the latest in a series of frustrating games against Bucknell for Ingram. His 2-for-12 afternoon was a repeat of his line in AU’s regular season loss at Sojka.

“They do a good job switching up the way they defend me. That poses problems sometimes,” said Ingram.

Only on days with a D in them, Andre. In three games against the Bison this season, the league’s leading scorer, normally a 42-percent shooter, has gone a combined 5-for-33 (13.5 percent).

Matej Cresnik made sure American would avoid breaking Lafayette’s dubious mark with a three-pointer with 3:23 left that accounted for AU’s 34th point. Jason Thomas made sure they would not share the mark with a free throw two minutes later.

Those were as close to offensive highlights as American could muster. Cresnik, who torched Navy for 30 points in Friday night’s first round overtime win over Navy, finished with 12 points. But that late three-pointer was his only trey all day, after stroking five of them against Navy.

Even more telling was Thomas’ free throw, which accounted for his only point on an afternoon when the second team all-league pick went 0-for-7 from the field. Included in that total were 6 of the 13 three-pointers AU missed. Four more of those were in the line next to Ingram’s name.

Niesz finished with 11 points, sharing team honors with Chris McNaughton, who also scored 11 despite spending long stretches on the bench due to foul trouble. Charles Lee added 10 and came within one rebound of a second straight double-double.

Abe Badmus finished with 8 points, while dishing out a game-high 5 assists. Badmus also showed why he is the league’s defensive player of the year, coming up with three steals while hounding AU’s Linus Lekavicius into a 2-of-6 shooting night.
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