Bison pull out opener

Originally posted Friday at 11:39 p.m., updated at 3:47 a.m.

NOTE: This report has been edited to correct an error in the original post.

A good shooter has no conscience. It doesn’t matter to a shooter if his shots are falling or clanging off the rim. He is like an egg-sucking dog, he has a habit that cannot be broken.

When you are on, shoot, they say. When you are off, shoot until you are on.

So it was no surprise when Bucknell’s Kevin Bettencourt jacked up a 19-footer from the right side with his foot on the three-point line with one second to go and his team trailing Rider by a point in the season opener for both teams.

Forget the fact that he had just missed six shots in a row. Forget that Bettencourt was 2-for-12 from three-point range up to that point. The fact that he had not made a bucket since early in the second half and was 1 for his last 10 did not bother Bettencourt any more than the fact that he had not made a field goal in the past 12 minutes.

Bettencourt is a shooter, and shooters shoot the ball. And you don’t get to be your school’s all-time leading three-point shooter without making a few. Like the one that won the season-opener 56-54 over a game Rider club that led most of the second half.

“I’m going to keep shooting. I learned that through the years. I am not going to stop shooting. I needed a nice roll and I got one,” said Bettencourt, who had seen shot after shot rim out before the game-winner stayed down.

“He had to knock one down,” said Bison coach Pat Flannery.

Up until the final minute of the game, it had all the makings of an upset.

The Broncs took the lead with a 5-0 spurt in the last 45 seconds of the first half, breaking a 24-24 tie with a three-pointer by Edwin Muniz and a short jumper from Rodney Pierce.

For most of the second half, Rider made that narrow lead stand up. Bucknell closed it to 31-30 early in the second half, only to see Rider stretch the lead back to 7. Four times Bucknell managed to pull even; each time Rider responded to keep the lead.

Against Bucknell’s usually stingy defense, the Broncs shot 45 percent from the floor in the first half. At the same time, Bucknell, in early foul trouble after a handful of offensive foul calls on its big men, became tentative against Rider’s aggressive matchup zone.

“We got called for some moving screens and stuff early, some physical stuff we usually can do. We got less aggressive and as a result we became a perimeter shooting team,” said Flannery.

In fact, 12 of Bucknell’s 22 first half shots came from outside the three-point arc. Only three of them fell in a half that saw the Bison shoot 36.4 percent.

How perimeter oriented did the Bison become? Chris McNaughton, their 6-11 center had 7 first half points, all from outside the paint, including the first three-pointer of his career.

“That was not planned,” McNaughton said.

“The shot or the bank,” asked Flannery.

“Everything,” laughed McNaughton.

With Bucknell unable to get into an offensive flow, and the Broncs hitting four big three-pointers, including the one by Muniz that kick started the spurt at the end of the half, Rider went into the locker room at intermission feeling their oats.

“By then we had given them so much confidence that it was going to go down to the end,” said Flannery.

That it did. The Broncs had a 52-48 lead with 2:41 to play. Then Bucknell’s defense and experience came to the forefront. First Charles Lee stole the ball off Rider’s Jason Thompson under the Bison basket after Thomspon had rebounded a missed Bettencourt trey.

Lee, trying to throw the ball off Thompson’s legs as he was falling out of bounds, missed Thompson, but the bounce found Donald Brown, who laid it in to cut Broncs’ lead to 2.

The Bison, who allowed only three Rider offensive rebounds all night, gave up two of those in the final two minutes. But each time they managed to get the stop, once with McNaughton making a big block on a Muniz runner and, after yet another Bettencourt missed three, by forcing Rider into a shotclock violation.

Rider had yet another possession with a chance to stretch its lead, but Muniz missed an off balance jumper with the shot clock about to expire.

At the other end, Bucknell’s John Griffin hit a three with 17.5 to go to give the Bison their first lead of the second half. But Rider went right back on top on a pair of Thompson free throws after he got the ball on the low block and drew a foul from McNaughton.

That set the stage for Bettencourt’s heroics.

“We’ve been in so many situations like that the last few years. We have been there before. We remained confident and never paniced,” said Bettencourt, who added a free throw after Rider threw away a desperation inbounds pass to account for the final margin.

McNaughton, who hit the first four shots he took and put back his own miss on the fifth, finished with 14 points to lead the Bison. Charles Lee added 13, 8 coming in the first 4:55 of the game. Lee also had a team high 8 rebounds as the Bison outboarded Rider 39-28.

Thompson led Rider with 17 points. Muniz chipped in with an 11-points, 11-rebounds double-double.

The Bison will continue their season opening road swing Tuesday when they travel to Syracuse to face the No. 16 Orangemen.

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