Falling just short of a second consecutive NCAA tournament bid and Patriot League title in a devastating loss to Lehigh last week, the men’s basketball team emphatically responded by recording one of the biggest upsets in school history, knocking off top-seeded Arizona 65-54 during the first round of the NIT on Wednesday night. Leading by just four points with under a minute to play, Bryson Johnson ’13 hit a clutch fade-away three-pointer with 52 seconds left on the clock, erasing any real chance of a Wildcats comeback run and putting the junior at the 1000 career point mark.
All-Patriot League center Mike Muscala ’13 made his presence felt early and often for the Orange and Blue, leading all scorers with 20 points and amassing nine rebounds and four blocked shots throughout the contest. Looming at 6’11”, Muscala proved to be a major matchup challenge for a Wildcats defense that could not find a way to contain the big man.
On the defensive side, the Orange and Blue produced one of their best performances of the year. Tasked with guarding Arizona’s most talented offensive player Kyle Fogg, three-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Bryan Cohen ’12 anchored the defense and limited Fogg to just five points in the contest, nine fewer than his season average.
Appearing in front a of packed crowd at the McKale Center in Tuscon, Ariz., the Orange and Blue got off to a fast start, leading by as much as 13 points and limiting the Wildcats to 16 points in the first 15 minutes of play. Yet, during the final minutes of the half, the Bison offense stalled considerably, allowing the Wildcats to cut into their lead and go into the half down just six.
Arizona carried their momentum into the second half and quickly claimed their first lead of the game behind the hot hands of Solomon Hill and Jesse Perry, who led the Wildcats with 17 and 12 points respectively. Appearing to be slowly losing pace, the Orange and Blue quickly regained the lead with five straight points by Cameron Ayers ’14, which kick-started a 13-4 Bison run over the next eight minutes of play. Ayers finished the contest with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Despite their strong offensive play, the Bison got into foul trouble early in the half, allowing the Wildcats to get to the line often and climb back to within three with 4:27 left to play. Then, after a controversial blocking call, Muscala fouled out of the game with 2:59 left on the clock, leaving the Bison to finish out the game without their leading scorer and biggest shot-blocking presence.
The Bison pressed on and completely shut down the Wildcats offense for the duration of the contest. Leading by four and in desperate need of a big basket, Johnson stepped up with a huge three-pointer with 52 seconds left to extend the lead to seven and take much of the pressure off the team. From that point on, the Bison added to their lead with foul shots.
With the victory, the Orange and Blue move to 1-0 all-time at the NIT and continue on to the second round, where they will meet fifth-seeded Nevada on Sunday at 3 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.