Unlike Friday, when PC came out with passion and energy, the Friars seemed flat to start and quickly fell behind. Paced by hot shooting Bryan Cohen (18 points, four three-pointers), Bucknell built leads of 13-6, 26-19 and 32-28, as the Friars were forced to play catch-up throughout the first half. Only inspired play by Marshon Brooks kept PC in the game, as Sharaud Curry, Jamine Peterson and Bilal Dixon all struggled.
Trailing by two at halftime, PC fell behind 45-42 after a jumper by Cohen before Duke Mondy stepped up and drilled two straight three pointers for a 48-45 Friar lead with thirteen minutes to play. From there, the game remained nip and tuck for the next six minutes and Stephen Tyree tied the contest at 53-all with seven minutes to play.
The Friars finally asserted themselves, moving ahead on a three by Brian McKenzie. Bucknell was still within four when Brooks nailed a jumper, Dixon scored on a follow layup, and then Brooks drove and kicked to Curry, who buried a dagger right corner three for a 70-61 lead with 1:32 left. From there, free throws settled the game, but not before the Friars escaped with a scary win.
How was Bucknell able to thwart the Friars at seemingly every turn? First, the Bison are extremely well coached. They work at controlling tempo, spread the court on offense, move and cut well, and had no problem handling PC's pressure, at least until the final seven minutes. Bucknell's zone created problems, as the Bison held the Friars to 38% shooting for the game and 31% (10-32) from three.
What ultimately did Bucknell in was the cumulative effect of PC's pressure, as applied by longer, more athletic players, and the Friars' ferocious efforts on the glass. PC outrebounded Bucknell 46-31, and 24-13 on the offensive boards. Without those second and third chance opportunities, the Friars likely lose. Despite PC's rebounding edge, Bucknell is a bigger team, which highlights the fact that PC is a fairly small team, and their bigs played reasonably well.
Keno Davis also noticeably shortened the rotation in the second half with PC in danger of losing. Johnnie Lacy and James Still did not see second half action, while Russ Permenter played only three minutes, as did Mondy, although he was very effective in his short time. On the other hand, Curry played 33 minutes, Brooks 29, Vincent Council 28, Dixon 27 and Peterson 21.
"We have to look at it as an incredible win because Bucknell played incredibly well and hard," said Keno Davis. "I'm not sure we win that game last year. I'm proud of the team coming back on short rest. We have the youth and energy this year to play hard and pick that up at any time during the game."
"The best learning experiences are when you win close games," continued Davis. "We've got to be able to execute in close games and at the start of games just like at the end of games. Our intensity probably wasn't as aggressive as it was last night."
"I blame myself for this happening," said Marshon Brooks. "We weren't sharp in warm-ups and I tried to get the guys up and tell them that Bucknell was going to play hard, but they're young."
Mercer is led by James Florence, the leading returning career scorer in all of college basketball. The 6'1 senior played high school ball with Curry, but isn't really similar to Curry. Sharaud is a much better outside shooter while Florence is faster and gets to the rim. Teams will not want to be tied or up by only one or two points against Mercer at the end of games because Florence is the kind of guard who is a one man press breaker and can go coast to coast for baskets in the blink of an eye.
E. J. Kusnyer had a lights-out three point shooting performance against Bryant, Brian Mills is a long and talented big man and Jeff Smith is a dangerous two guard. Mercer likes to play fast, as does PC, and is just an average defensive squad, so this could be a high scoring matchup.
Recruiting note… a number of recruits took in the contest, including Andre Drummond, Tyler Olander, Cainaan Severin from Worcester Academy, Jules Tavares from Wareham High, URI commit Billy Baron, and a number of other Worcester Academy players.