While Bucknell shot poorly in the first half, this was as much due to the superb Army defense as it was a poor showing by Bucknell. True to past blueprints of Army games, both teams started out slowly on offense. Chris McNaughton opened the scoring, catching an alley oop pass and laying one in. But, the tough Black Knights scored the next 3 baskets to go up, 6-2, with 14 to play in the first half.
Bucknell seemed surprised at finding themselves in a tough contest with the Black Knights. Corban Bates helped extend Army's lead to 11-4 with 2 shots from long range, one being a 3-pter. Army continued to play extremely well, and actually led by 10, 19-9, with 7 to play in the first half, capped by a Jarell Brown 3-point field goal. Cory Sinning hit an 18-ft jumper to give the Black Knights a 21-12 lead 2 minutes later. Then, Army finally hit a dry spell. Bucknell launched a full-court press, and Army had some trouble hanging on to the ball. 3 layups and a John Griffin 3-pter later and the score was tied at 21. Matt Bell made a nice shot while being heavily guarded in the middle of the lane to give Army a 23-21 lead.
The rest of the first half saw both teams make several trips to the foul line. particularly the Bison, who were receiving the double bonus as a result of Army's 10+ team fouls. Abe Badmus made a nice layup as the first half horn sounded, giving Bucknell a 30-26 lead at the half.
Several teams may have folded at that point, thinking they gave the probable league champions a good run for the first half. But, this Army team continued to show resolve and fight.
Charles Lee started off the second half with a traditional 3-pt play for the Bison, but Corban Bates hit another long range three from the corner for Army. Bucknell went up 37-29 by going down low and using their height advantage; however, Jarell Brown countered with a 3 from the corner, and Kenny Brewer's nice driving layup made it 37-34, Bucknell, 4 minutes into the 2nd half. Bucknell moved the ball around well on their next possession, leaving Charles Lee open for a 3-point shot, which he drained. But, Jarell "the Microwave" Brown countered with another 3-pointer. Jimmy Sewell added a great post move and laid it in to close the gap to 40-39. Army played great defense on the next possession, but Bucknell again showed why they are in first place, finding freshman Jason Vegotsky, who swished a 3-pt shot.
Army still hung tough, and after a Jarell Brown layup and a Cory Sinning 7-footer, Army and Bucknell were tied at 43. One could easily see the worry in Bucknell Coach Pat Flannery's face as he realized, perhaps unexpectedly, that Army was not going to go away.
The real crushing blow happened in the next sequence. Once again, Army played superb defense, only to have Vegotsky drain another 3-point shot. Coach Crews acknowledged after the game that the 2 3-pointers by the tough Bucknell freshman really turned the tide. Jimmy Sewell made another layup to close it to 46-45. Bucknell then poured on the gas, stepping up their effort on the defensive level. A couple of Army turnovers helped the Bison to a 9-0 run, and the game started to get away from the Black Knights. Even so, Army still managed to fight part of the way back. 5 more points from Jarell Brown and a nice layup from Dan Borcherdt closed Bucknell's lead to 57-52 with 4 to play. Army just could not really convert any more scoring opportunities, and Army found itself in the position where it had to put the Bison on the free throw line as the clock wound down. As most good teams do, the Bison made most of their free throws, and the final score actually matched Bucknell's largest lead of the game. Clearly, though, it was not indicative of the relative closeness of the affair.
Bucknell had several players contribute to their victory. Charles Lee may be the most complete player in the Patriot League. He is a "tall" 6-foot-3 with long arms, and plays great defense, hits open shots and is solid from the free throw line. His boxscore for the night: 19 points, 6 steals, 5 assists (all team highs), 8-8 from the free throw line, 5 rebounds and a blocked shot. Smooth shooting freshman Jason Vegotsky only scored 6 points all night, but his 2 3-point field goals came at critical junctures. Abe Badmus gave the Army point guards fits all night with his defense, and he also added 10 points.
Jarell "the Microwave" Brown can heat up quickly. Coming off the bench and still getting into top shape following his month hiatus as a result of injury, Jarell led all scorers with 25 points. He is able to create his own shot, and is certainly the go-to player on the offensive end. Corban Bates had a solid offensive performance, and Jimmy Sewell played one of his best games of the year. While the second all-time Army leader in blocked shots did not add to his career totals, Sewell's presence altered the Bison's shots and definitely affected Bucknell's offense. Marshall Jackson did a nice job shutting down Kevin Bettencourt, and Erik Engstrom showed his trademark hustle and led the Black Knights with 5 rebounds.
There is truly a Super contest coming up this Sunday. Arch-rival Navy comes into Christl Arena for a 1 pm tip-off, and they will be looking for revenge for the 80-73 Army victory in Annapolis 2 weeks ago. However, Army has to be encouraged by their performance against Bucknell, and an equivalent effort this Sunday should help them surpass the Middies. Go Army, Beat Navy!