A magical season for the 2013 Bison men’s basketball team came to an end on March 21 when the Bison, seeded 11th in the East region of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, fell to sixth-seeded Butler 68-56 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. The Orange and Blue finished the season with an outstanding 28-6 record, the most wins by a team in Patriot League history.
Making the sixth tournament appearance in program history, the Orange and Blue got off to a sluggish start offensively, scoring just 14 points in the opening frame. The hero for the Bison in the first half was Joe Willman ’13, who scored eight of the 14 points en route to a career-high 20 points on 10-16 shooting. Willman explains how he was able to get open looks throughout the game.
“Butler hedges ball screens really aggressively and keeps two guys on the ball so I was able to get to open space for open shots,” Willman said. “The guards did a really good job at making passes out of the ball screens. Also, Mike generates a lot of attention so his man was reluctant to leave him, leaving me open.”
Mike Muscala ’13 was stifled throughout the half by Andrew Smith and the Butler defense, limited to nine points for the game on 4-17 shooting. Muscala was still able to grab 10 rebounds. Despite struggling shooting-wise in the first half, the defense, which has been stout all season, held Butler to just 21 points, keeping the deficit at seven heading into the half. Cameron Ayers ’14 discusses what head coach Dave Paulsen’s message was to the team at the half.
“He told us that shots would fall in the second half and that we just need to step up and hit shots,” Ayers said. “We were playing well defensively and only held them to 21 points, so just to keep the defensive intensity up as well.”
Butler extended its lead to 29-18 with 16:35 left in the second half, but the resilient Bison would not go away and staged a comeback. Ignited by a three-point play by Muscala, the Orange and Blue went on a 19-2 run to take a 37-31 lead. The run featured a key jumper by Willman and a transition three by Ayers, who finished with nine points on 3-10 shooting for the game. Butler responded with a run of their own, but Ryan Frazier ’16 came back with a huge three-point play to take back the lead at 40-39.
Butler would take control for the rest of the game as they outscored the Orange and Blue by 12 en route to the third round of the tournament, where they would lose 64-62 to three-seeded Marquette. Ayers discusses what made Butler such a tough matchup for the team.
“They are a very physical team and they don’t make too many mistakes and won’t beat themselves,” Ayers said. “They are very disciplined on defense and make you run your offense to perfection.”
After being inserted into the starting lineup just last month, point guard Steven Kaspar ’15 continued his strong play with six points, six assists and six rebounds in a career-high 32 minutes of action. He also helped lead the defense in holding Butler to just 36 percent shooting, which came into the game shooting 45 percent for the season. The Bulldogs’ defense was also strong, limiting the Bison to just 37 percent from the field.
Despite the loss, the Orange and Blue completed arguably the most successful season in program history. The senior class of Bryson Johnson, Muscala, Willman and Colin Klebon won 92 games in their career, the most in the history of the program. Muscala finished his career as the Bison’s all-time leading scorer (2,036) and second in rebounds (1,093). Johnson, who finished with nine points in the Butler game, leaves as the Patriot League’s record holder for three point baskets in a career (323).
“We are proud of a lot of things over the past four years. We are proud to have won as many games as we did along with setting the records we did with a great group of guys, playing for unbelievable coaches,” Willman said.
While the Bison are losing much of their veteran core from this year, the future looks bright for the program in the years moving forward. Players such as Ayers, Kaspar, Frazier, Dom Hoffman ’16, Ryan Hill ’14 and Chris Hass ’16 will have the Orange and Blue competitive for next year.
“I’m looking forward to another good season next year with a great group of guys. It is going to be extremely difficult to replace the seniors, obviously because they were a huge part of our success on and off the court, but we are going to have to do it collectively,” Ayers said. “This summer and next fall we all are going to have to improve individually but once we all get back together I think we will surprise a lot of people and have a successful year.”