The Leopards were closing in. With 7:17 remaining in the men’s Patriot League basketball championship between the top-seeded Bison and second-seeded Lafayette, the Orange and Blue found themselves clinging to a 41-38 lead. The team and the Orange and Blue faithful knew it was time for Mike Muscala ’13, the Roseville, Minn. native, to take over. And Muscala, as he has done so often throughout his decorated four-year career, took over the game, scoring six crucial points and essentially sealing the game and NCAA tournament berth for the Bison.
Muscala, who posted 20 points and 11 rebounds in that game, had arguably the most impressive season not just in program history, but in Patriot League history. Muscala recorded a nation-best 22 double-doubles in the season, averaging 18.7 points and 11.1 rebounds a game. Not to be lost in the dominance of Muscala during the Patriot League Tournament was his performance when the Orange and Blue traveled to Columbia, Mo. to take on then 12th-ranked Missouri. Muscala put the team on his back that game, posting an incredible 25 points and 14 rebounds in an eventual 66-64 defeat. Despite the loss, Muscala put himself on the national radar as one of the top big men in the country and the Bison as one of the top mid-major teams in the country.
“This year I told him [Muscala] he had to be a more effective passer and cut down on turnovers,” head coach Dave Paulsen said. “His assist to turnover ratio went way up and he almost led our team in assists.”
The numbers only begin to tell the story. On top of posting the most impressive numbers of his four-year collegiate career, Muscala won the Patriot League Player of the Year award for the second time in his career. He also won League Defensive Player of the Year, Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Patriot League Tournament MVP and was selected as a member of the Senior CLASS All-America First Team, which is given annually to the most outstanding senior student-athletes in Division I men’s basketball.
Muscala’s willingness to give it his all on both ends of the court was a major reason the team was one of the most dominant defensive teams in the nation. Despite all these awards, Muscala’s favorite memories were being a part of the NCAA March Madness.
“Making the NCAA Tournament as a sophomore and senior and winning the Patriot League Tournament Championship,” Muscala said. “Being a part of March Madness was very exciting.”
The 6’11” center came to Lewisburg in 2009, along with fellow seniors Joe Willman, Bryson Johnson and Colin Klebon, looking to help turn around a team that went 7-23
the year before under then first-year head coach Paulsen. Since his arrival, the team improved each year, winning the Patriot League regular season title the last three years and earning NCAA tournament berths in two of those three years. After averaging 9.9 points and 4.9 rebounds his rookie year, Muscala increased his total to 14.9 points and 7.3 rebounds, helping lead the team to the NCAA tournament and winning his first Patriot League Player of the Year award.
“Mike improved significantly every year,” Paulsen said. “Each spring I gave him a specific area of his game I wanted him to make substantial progress in. Each ensuing season he far surpassed my expectations. After his freshman year, we told Mike he had to go inside more and get to the foul line. He more than doubled his FT attempts that year and is the career leader at Bucknell in career makes and attempts.”
Muscala improved still in his junior year, and while the team fell in the Patriot League Championship against Lehigh, he helped lead the Bison to a first-round NIT upset over top-seeded Arizona, posting 20 points, nine rebounds and four blocks in the victory.
Muscala leaves the program as part of a senior class that won 92 games together, the most in program history.
“Mike was so coachable which helped him make those improvements but was also an inspiration to all of his teammates,” Paulsen said. “This was a tremendously coachable group and much of that credit goes to Mike and his fellow captains.”
There is no doubt that Muscala will go down as one of the greatest players in the history of the University’s men’s basketball program. His presence will surely be remembered for years to come.