By Greg Stevenson
Streaking into the Patriot League Tournament as the conference’s best and hottest team, the top-ranked Bison men’s basketball team dominated the eighth-seeded Army Black Knights, 78-51, in front of a loud and raucous Sojka Pavilion crowd on Wednesday night. The victory was the first postseason win for the men’s basketball program since its dramatic triple-overtime win over Navy in the first round of the conference tournament in 2008.
Youth was on display for the Bison against the Black Knights, as the three leading scorers for the Orange and Blue were two sophomores and one first-year. Cameron Ayers ’14 recorded 19 points off the bench and Bryson Johnson ’13 added 17, including hitting four from beyond the three-pointer arc.
But it was Mike Muscala ’13 who set the tone on both ends of the floor, registering 11 points but also grabbing seven rebounds and seven blocked shots.
Early on, the game seemed like it would be a defensive struggle. Turnovers and missed shots marred the first few possessions for both sides in the opening four minutes of the contest.
Despite the early struggles, the Bison settled down offensively and exploded with a 32-8 run in the final 16 minutes of the first half, taking a 22-point advantage into locker room. The half was capped by a fadeaway three-pointer from the corner by Johnson, killing whatever momentum Army had been clinging to.
The second half was a similar story for the Orange and Blue. An early Army run cut the lead to 11 with 14 minutes left, but a strategic time-out by head coach Dave Paulsen refocused the Orange and Blue. After the stop in play, the Bison outscored the Black Knights 22-5 over the next seven minutes. There was nothing Army could do to keep the Orange and Blue from yet another stellar conference victory.
Before the game, several Bison were honored for their outstanding 2010-11 campaigns. Muscala was announced as the Patriot League Player of the Year to the Sojka crowd, beating out last year’s winner, C.J. McCollum of Lehigh. Muscala averaged 14.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game in the regular season and was always the go-to guy on the offensive end of the floor for the Orange and Blue. Among his highlight reel in 2011 were two game-winning buzzer beaters, one at Richmond and one at home versus Holy Cross.
Reigning Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Bryan Cohen ’12 made it a two-peat by winning the award again, and Paulsen was rewarded for leading the Bison to a near-perfect conference record with the league’s Coach of the Year.
The victory over Army ensured a spot in the Patriot League semifinals for the Bison. After Lehigh beat Navy Wednesday night in the quarterfinals, the Mountain Hawks will travel to Lewisburg and take on the Bison Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. With a berth in the conference finals on the line, Sojka Pavilion is sure to be loud and a tough atmosphere for any away team.