The true character of a team is best seen in times of adversity. That was the case as the Bison took sole possession of first place in the Patriot League with a pivotal 61-55 victory over Lehigh on Feb. 18 after falling to Lafayette 63-62 on Feb. 16. The Bison’s record now stands at 22-5 overall and 9-2 in league play. The Orange and Blue have three games remaining to secure home-court advantage throughout the Patriot League Tournament. The Bison traveled to Stabler Arena with first place in the league on the line and were able to snap their three-game losing streak to Lehigh. On a night when Mike Muscala ’13 and Joe Willman ’13 were in foul trouble in each half, the bench came up huge to give the team a much needed lift. Bryson Johnson ’13 heated up in the second half and led the team with a game-high 19 points to push the Bison past the Mountain Hawks (18-7, 8-3).
The Orange and Blue got off to a quick 7-0 lead, capped off by a three from Cameron Ayers ’14, but Muscala, who finished with 12 points and
nine rebounds, picked up two quick fouls. Brian Fitzpatrick ’13 provided a tremendous spark off the bench with six first-half points and 10 rebounds in place of Muscala.
“Obviously Mike [Muscala] is our best player, so with him out it is definitely a big loss. I just went out there and played my game. I played good defense, rebounded and scored when I got the opportunities,” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick’s effort helped the Bison maintain the lead for much of the first half, but a 13-4 run by Lehigh to end the half gave the Mountain Hawks a slim 24-23 lead going into halftime.
The first 7:20 of the second half were frantic with seven lead changes and three ties. Johnson, who struggled for much of the first half, found his stroke as he made two straight three’s to break the 37-37 time to push the Orange and Blue lead to 43-37. A three-point play by Muscala and two more threes from Johnson and Ben Brackney ’14 gave the Bison a 52-41 lead. Lehigh cut the Bison lead to 52-48 with 5:59 remaining in the game.
Driving baskets by Johnson and Ryan Frazier ’16 extended the lead back to 58-51 with 1:57 left. Frazier also provided a tremendous defensive effort off the bench, holding Lehigh guard Mackey McKnight to just two points in the final 15 minutes of the game.
The Orange and Blue could not put the game away at the foul line, and a Lehigh basket cut the lead to 58-55 with just
51 seconds remaining. Trying to use up as much clock as possible, the Bison ran the clock down near the end of the shot clock, at which time Ayers drove to the basket and somehow got a miraculous circus-like layup in the basket to give the Bison a 60-55 lead that virtually sealed the victory.
After shooting just 29.6 percent in the first half, the Bison shot 51.9 percent in the second half, while holding Lehigh to 40.0 percent shooting for the game. After Lehigh shot 10-18 three-pointers in the first match-up between the two teams, the defense held them to just 1-15, while the Bison shot 6-17 from three-point range.
The Bison saw their five-game winning streak come to an end on Feb. 16 when they lost to Lafayette on guard Tony Johnson’s game winning jumper with just 4.5 seconds remaining. Muscala recorded 29 points and 15 rebounds while Ayers had 20 points and was 8-12 shooting overall and 4-6 from beyond the arc.
Ayers, who scored 17 of his 20 points in a second half effort, nailed a three to give the Bison a 60-59 lead. Ayers then hit another jumper to give extend the Bison lead to 62-59.
The team was unable to put the game away as Johnson and Brackney
both missed threes in the final minute of the game. After Brackney’s miss, Lafayette hit the game winning jumper. Ayers contested three at the buzzer came up short to give Lafayette the victory.
“Obviously it’s a huge boost in our confidence. The loss to Lafayette really stung, and I am just glad we were able to rebound and get a big win,” Fitzpatrick said. “We still got three big games left in league play to clinch home court. We need to keep getting better as a team because we will most likely see Lehigh again in the tournament.”
The Bison return home this weekend to face Holy Cross at noon on Feb. 24.