All Good Things Must Come to an End
Bucknell snaps Lafayette win streak, takes PL Championship
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 15, 2013 10:03
In three of his four years, point guard Tony Johnson '13 and forward Levi Giese '13 made it to the Patriot League championship. Unfortunately, they finished their playing careers without taking home any hardware. Their last attempt at Patriot League gold fell short against senior superstar Mike Muscala and the Bucknell Bison on Wednesday 64-56.
A second-half comeback attempt brought the Leopards to within three, but a 12-0 run from the No. 1 seed in the Tournament spelled the end for Lafayette. Their defeat broke a seven-game winning streak.
The jitters showed early on in the contest. Freshman Bryce Scott rushed an easy layup attempt on the Leopards' first offensive possession and forced a runner that clanged off the rim. The Leopards as a whole struggled to find the bottom of the net in the first half, shooting only 29 percent from the field and getting a mere three players into the scoring column. The Leopards failed to convert many solid opportunities on the offensive end, and buckets just weren't dropping early on.
“It seemed like the last seven or eight games, those same shots were going in,” Johnson said postgame. “To their credit, they played really good defense today...give the all the credit in the world.”
Meanwhile, the Bison were dominating on the boards and off the bench. At the end of the first period of play, Bucknell owned a 10-0 advantage both on 2nd chance points and bench points. The first half ended with the home team owning a 26-18 advantage, but it could have been much worse.
When the Leopards came out for second-half shootarounds, they didn't look loose—they looked worried. The smile that had painted Johnson's face for the first two rounds of the tournament had been replaced by the unmistakeable look of a man under pressure.
The Leopards did their best to get the rest of the team involved offensively. Junior Joey Ptasinski and Scott took over the offense. Scott ended the contest with 13 points, and Ptasisnski led the team with 15. All of their points came in the second half.
“He was terrific,” Lafayette Head Coach Fran O'Hanlon said regarding Ptasinski. “He just kind of took over the game in a lot of ways. Joey has that ability, he's a terrific shooter when his midrange game is working for him, and you could see he was just much more aggressive in the second half.”
The Leopards managed to cut the Bison lead to within three on two separate occasions. On the first instance, Bison Cameron Ayers '14 hit a layup with one second on the shot clock to extend the lead back to five. The Bison then hustled their way to a steal on the inbounds pass, getting another layup on the two-on-Tony to push their lead to seven.
The second instance was even more deflating. After a Ptasinski jumper re-cut the lead to a trio of points, Muscala led the Bison on a 12-0 run that deflated the Lafayette squad.
While Dan Trist '15 managed to limit Muscala's impact in the first half, the Bucknell senior forward proved why he was not only the 2013 Patriot League Player of the Year, but a Naismith candidate. Trist managed to hold the 6-11 forward bucketless until about 8:31 left in the first half, when a Moose dunk made it 15-10 and put the Bison faithful on their feet.
But Muscala won out eventually, scoring 20 points while grabbing 11 boards. 14 of those points came in the second half.
“Whenever they needed a basket, they went to the big guy,” O'Hanlon said, referring to Muscala. “He was terrific, and he has been terrific for the [four] years that he's been in the league.”
Johnson, on the other hand, ended up having his worst game since February 9, scoring 11 points on an uncharacteristically low 4-13 (30.7 percent) shooting. He was a huge reason why the Leopards even made it to the Championship round, having averaged 21 points and 5.4 rebounds over the previous seven games.
Lafayette failed to take advantage of an uncharacteristically friendly crowd in the Sojka Pavilion. With Bucknell's spring break in effect, the student crowd was outnumbered by the kids from Lafayette, who had taken a two-hour bus to be in attendance. Rowdy as they were, they couldn't will Lafayette to their first Patriot League Championship since the turn of the millennium.
Bucknell also managed to clamp down on Lafayette's perimeter game. The Leopards had tied a Patriot League Tournament record during their last game with 14 threes against Lehigh, but went a mere 5-15 from beyond the arc in the Championship round. It took a whole dimension out of Lafayette's game.
“They did a great job on the perimeter,” O'Hanlon said. “They'll chase you right into Muscala.”
“They've always been a good, solid perimeter defensive team,” Johnson said. “They can take a lot more risks out there. It's pretty easy when you have Muscala inside because once you get by the first line of defense, they make it tough. When you have a big guy [like that] contesting shots, it makes it hard.”
With the 2012-13 disappointment acknowledged, the Leopards, who finished 19-15 and 10-5 in the Patriot League do have a solid base to build off of for next year. They will only be graduating two players: Johnson and Giese. Scott is the heir apparent to Johnson, and will undoubtedly be a star for his next three years. Trist, Ptasinski, and fellow sophomore Seth Hinrichs are all key contributors who have two years left in Maroon and White, and there's even more talent waiting on the bench.