By Greg Stevenson
After finishing the 2011-2012 season with a regular-season Patriot League title and despite coming just five points away from advancing to the NCAA Tournament, the men’s basketball team took its talents west over spring break for its first-ever berth in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT).
The first round of the tournament was highlighted by the Bison’s 65-54 upset victory over top-seeded Arizona. Leading the way was Lou Henson All-American Mike Muscala ’13, who recorded 20 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots in 33 minutes of play. Even in their narrow defeat in the second round of the NIT on March 18 versus Nevada, Muscala kept the Bison close with another double-double, his record-tying 16th of the season.
The Bucknellian caught up with last season’s Patriot League Most Outstanding Player to discuss his experience in the postseason.
The Bucknellian: What was the experience like playing in the NIT?
Mike Muscala: It was fun. We spent our spring break playing basketball in Arizona and Nevada, two places I had never been before.
Bucknellian: What was it like going against a Pacific-12 team with such a rich basketball history, like Arizona?
MM: Seeing all the great players’ names that had played at Arizona on banners and plaques throughout their arena was cool. They have been an elite level program for many, many years.
Bucknellian: Going into the Arizona game as the eighth seed, playing against the top seed, what did you feel like your chances were?
MM: I wasn’t worried about the seeding. Men’s college basketball is changing a lot in this aspect. I think that for the most part, any team that reaches the postseason is a quality team. I knew we would have a great chance to win if we came out aggressive and poised.
Bucknellian: Did you feel like people were counting you out in the game, and if so, how did that make you feel?
MM: There are always going to be people that count you out in big games, so that didn’t affect me. I try my best to just stay focused on what the team needs from me, and use whatever negativity or doubt or whatever it may be that I do encounter as motivation.
Bucknellian: When you fouled out late against Arizona with the game still on the line, what was going through your head knowing you had to watch the rest of the game from the bench?
MM: Fouling out towards the end of the game like that was really tough for me. But Bryson [Johnson ’13] hit a huge shot and I think we ended the game on like a 9-0 run after I fouled out, so maybe it was a good thing!
Bucknellian: What was it like winning a post-season game and advancing to the second round of the NIT?
MM: It was a good win for our team. Arizona was the first high-major team that we had beaten since I got to campus. It was also special that so many fans and supporters were able to watch it since it was on national television.
Bucknellian: Against both Arizona and Nevada, you seemed to dominate the paint. What did it mean for you to play that well?
MM: I knew that for us to have a chance against teams like that I had to be aggressive and draw attention in the paint. That opened it up for a lot of good looks from our outstanding shooters on the perimeter.
With the experience of winning a tournament game under his belt, Muscala will head into his final season in a Bison uniform looking to build on the success from this year’s NIT run. Four starters and three key reserves from this year’s squad return to the court next season for what could be another banner year for the Orange and Blue.