Bison play giant killers again

People noticed Bucknell when they beat Saint Joseph’s and Pittsburgh last season. They threw psuedo awards at them after they knocked off Kansas.

Suddenly they were the next big thing. People in Missouri worshipped them. Voters, other than just John Feinstein, put them on their AP poll ballots. People started making comparisons to schools like Gonzaga.

Then the Bison when they opened the season with a narrow two-point win at Rider, and people started doubting. Maybe last season was a fluke. Maybe the Bison are not as good as projected.

They will doubt no more, though, not after the Bison beat No. 17 Syracuse 74-69 in front of 20,490 stunned fans in the Orangemen’s almost impenetrable fortress on the tundra.

The win was Bucknell’s second over a ranked Big East opponent in the past two seasons, both on the road, and its third over a Top 25 opponent in that span. It was Syracuse’s first non-conference loss in the Carrier Dome since Nov. 26, when the Orange lost to Charlotte. That season, you might recall, ended with Syracuse winning the national title.

Over the last three seasons, the only other teams to win in the Dome were Pittsburgh, UConn and Notre Dame. Syracuse is 356-69 all-time in the dome, 203-13 in non-conference games.

Traditional powers like Kentucky (0-2), Michigan (0-2) UCLA, Michigan State, Purdue, LSU, Marquette (0-2), Louisville (0-2), Missouri, Ohio State and Temple, all have come to the Carrier Dome and gone home without a win.

The Bucknell victory might have shocked the Syracuse fans. It was no surprise to the Bison, who reacted matter-of-factly at the final buzzer. There was no on-court celebration. Little more than a few whops of joy as they headed under the bleachers to their locker room.

“We wanted to act like we did this before,” said Bison captain Kevin Bettencourt, who led all scorers with 20 points. Nine of those came on three-pointers and two more on a layup that put Bucknell ahead for good, 62-60 with 2:47 to play. None of those were any bigger than the seven free throws Bettencourt knocked down (7-for-8) in the final 1:22 when Syracuse started fouling in an effort to extend the game.

“We are a good team. We deserved to win this one,” Bettencourt said.

Indeed they did. This was not decided by some fluke last second shot, or by Syracuse having an off night. This was simply a case of the better team winning. The Bison shot better – 53.2 percent from the field, including a sizzling 14-17 (82.4 percent) in the second half , to Syracuse’s 38.3 percent showing. Bucknell had more assists (19-16) and fewer turnovers (15-16).

Even though the Bison were outrebounded 35-28, most of that margin was a carryover from the first half, when Syracuse took advantage of Bucknell foul trouble to take control of the boards in the last four minutes of the half. Most of that stretch was played with Bucknel’s sophomore power forward Darren Mastropaolo on the bench nursing two personals.

During that four minute stretch, Syracuse went on a 12-3 run, overcoming Bucknell’s 8-point lead to takle a 28-27 edge at the break. Five of those points came from 6-9 Terrence Roberts, all following offensive rebounds. Roberts had 10 rebounds at the intermission, 7 on the offensive glass.

“I didn’t feel bad at halftime. I just felt there was not much we could do, we had a lot of guys sitting down,” Flannery said.

“In the second half, when they made their runs, they made some pretty deep threes, but it seemed to take Roberts out of it a little bit and we were keeping him off the glass.”

Syracuse built its lead to as many as 7 points early in the second half, and was up by that margin when Demetris Nichols hit a three-pointer with 13:02 to play, making it a 47-40 Syracuse lead, bringing the Carrier Dome crowd to its feet.

Bucknell answered with an 8-0 run, going ahead for the first time in the second half on a Charles Lee eight-footer with 10:20 left.

“We have guys that have been around. They never panicked. When they hit some big ones that got the crowd into it, it seemed like we were able to come back and score,” Flannery said.

Over the next four minutes it was a see-saw affair, with neither team able to go up by more than 4 through four lead changes and three ties. Then Bucknell took control. As is the Bison’s custom, it was the defense that made the difference.

First Abe Badmus picked Gerry McNamara’s pocket at the top of the arc and went the other way for a layup to tie the game at 60-60. On Syracuse’s next trip down the floor, the Orange got the ball to 6-11 Darryl Watkins down low. But Watkins was stripped, Chris McNaughton came up with the loose ball and fired an outlet to Bettencourt who went in all alone to give Bucknell a lead it would never lose.

After Badmus drove the lane and dished to McNaughton, who made an old-fashioned three-point play with a layup and a foul shot, giving the Bison a 65-60 lead. From there out it was a free throw shooting contest, and the Bison had no trouble in that department, knocking down 10-of-13 foul shots in the final 1:42.

“We played with a lot of poise tonight,” said Flannery.

Charles Lee finished with 18 points for Bucknell and McNaughton turned in a 15-point, 10 rebounds double-double.

A line just as impressive as any in Bucknell’s box score came next to Badmus’ name. The junior point guard only scored 6 points, but he had 3 assists while turning the ball over only once and finished with four steals.

Not seen in the box score is the job Badmus did on Syracuse standout Gerry McNamara, who finished with 18 points, but had to do yeomans’ work to get them. With Badmus draped across him most of the night, McNamara shot just 6-for-19 from the field (4-13 from three-point range) and turned the ball over 5 times.

“Every point that (McNamara) got, I wanted to make him earn it,” Badmus said.

Nichols led Syracuse with 19 points. Roberts, who had a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double in the first half, finished with 12 points and 11 boards.
Box score

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