Home » Columns » Currently Reading:

Bucknell improves and still has a higher ceiling

February 24, 2014 Columns 1 Comment

BOSTON – As the long season moves along, every team hopes to play their best basketball around the end of the season. In Bucknell’s case, that has meant going through a challenging transition to start. That transition seems more towards completion now, as the Bison have a season-best four-game winning streak going and appear to have plenty of upside.

This isn’t the Bison of a year ago, when they had three seniors key an experienced, very cohesive unit that carried the team to a Patriot League title. This team has needed many players to step into new roles, from Cameron Ayers needing to become the go-to guy after being a complementary player to three new starters needing to do more. The Bison knew this day would come and the transition would be a challenge, but until they went through it the extent was an unknown.

“The biggest thing we probably miss is just their talk,” Ayers said of the departed stars. “That’s why we struggled, I think, in the beginning of the year, our defensive intensity and talk. We’re starting to improve on that greatly, as you can see today what we’re capable of doing when those things are both intact.”

Bucknell certainly won Sunday’s game at Boston University with their defense, but that wasn’t all. They had more energy than the Terriers and were the tougher team all the way around. They held Boston University to 32 percent shooting on the day and out-rebounded them 46-27, the latter a reversal of what the Terriers did to American a few nights earlier.

The Bison also won with a big showing from the bench in the second half. Reserves accounted for 30 of their last 34 points as they took over after the Terriers built a nine-point lead a few minutes into the second half and looked like they might be ready to break the game open. Instead, Bucknell went on an 11-2 run to regain the lead, then appeared to use that as a psychological edge the rest of the way as they were significantly better than the Terriers in the final minutes.

The play of the reserves is a big part of why this team has a ways to go to reach its ceiling. Ayers and graduate student Brian Fitzpatrick, who had 12 rebounds on Sunday, are the only senior starters and only two others are seniors. The Bison always play a lot of players, and the big combination was Ayers alongside freshmen D.J. MacLeay and John Azzinaro, sophomore Ryan Frazier and junior Cory Starkey.

While Steven Kaspar has grown nicely this year as a starter at the point and also become a co-captain, he didn’t have his best game on Sunday. In stepped Azzinaro, a change-of-pace player for this team as he’s very quick. He scored nine points, including a three-pointer, and his future is clearly bright for this team, especially if he can shoot well. Azzinaro made plays that didn’t show up in the box score as well.

Frazier is known more for his defense, but he had several key drives including a pair that led to conventional three-point plays. He scored ten points on 4-6 shooting and gave the Terrier guards a hard time at the other end. When much-improved classmate Chris Hass takes a breather, Frazier comes in and slows down opposing guards.

MacLeay and Starkey each had seven rebounds, but mainly aided the rally with timely plays. Starkey was right there for loose balls and three offensive boards, while MacLeay hit a big three-pointer that gave the Bison the lead.

“That big three by D.J. (MacLeay) was huge,” said Ayers, who made for a light moment after that. “I was going to kill him, honestly, if he missed it (as laughter erupted), but that’s what he can do. They came in and we didn’t miss a beat, so that was huge for us.”

Ayers didn’t have his best game, but his 11 points led the Bison. The biggest thing he did was lead, something he’s had to do all year. It’s easy to think that comes naturally considering his father coached in college and the NBA, and his older brother played at Notre Dame, but he had older players to fall back on the last three years.

“He’s really stepped up in an amazing way verbally and just helping to focus our guys,” said head coach Dave Paulsen. “We played down the stretch with two freshmen a lot who earlier in the year looked like deer in the headlights.”

Paulsen said their loss at Holy Cross two weeks earlier was basically a gut-check time for this team. At that point, they were 5-7 in Patriot League play and had lost six of eight. They didn’t look good, and while they lost a few tough ones along the way the last two losses in that stretch had the biggest margins.

It’s fair to say they have responded well since then. At that time it would have been very hard to imagine them knocking off the league leaders on the road. They decided they were better than what they showed in Worcester, and now they are proving it.

“It just feels good that we’re making progress in terms of toughness and defensively and guys growing into their roles,” said Paulsen.

Bucknell can still get a home game in the Patriot League Tournament. They are tied with Army in fourth place, and Lehigh is two games back in sixth. Army is at home for their final two, but will play league-leading Boston University and a hot Lafayette team that has won four in a row. Bucknell gets a visit from Lehigh and has to go to American, so they don’t exactly have it easy.

But regardless of where they play their first game in the tournament, the Bison are clearly in a better place now. They got a win they would not have a few weeks earlier in Boston, and now have their longest winning streak of the season. The players have had plenty of time to grow into their new roles and prosper in them. All of that is bearing fruit now, and they are playing their best basketball at a good time.

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. bison137 says:

    Nice article. Note that Bucknell holds the tiebreaker over Army for the 4 seed if the two end up tied at the end.

Comment on this Article:

Subscribe to Hoopville

Enter your email address to subscribe to Hoopville


Hoopville Archives

College Basketball Tonight

We hope you enjoyed COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT during the 2016 NCAA Tournament. COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT is a comprehensive look at the NCAA Tournament hosted by veteran college basketball broadcaster Ted Sarandis, along with co-hosts Mike Jarvis and Terry O'Connor, both former Division I coaches. It also included many great guests, including Hoopville's own Phil Kasiecki.

The show aired on AM 710 WOR in New York City on Sunday evenings starting with Selection Sunday and running through the NCAA Tournament.

Here are links to the shows:

March 13, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

March 20, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

March 27, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

April 3, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

Everybody Needs a Head Coach

Former college basketball coach Mike Jarvis has a new book out, Everybody Needs a Head Coach.

"As you read this book, I hope that Coach Jarvis' experiences inspire you to find your purpose in life."
-Patrick Ewing, NBA Hall of Fame center

"Mike Jarvis' is one of my special friends. I am so pleased that he has taken the time to write this fabulous book."
-Mike Krzyzewski, Five-time NCAA championship head coach, Duke Blue Devils

"In reading this book, I can see that Mike hasn't lost his edge or his purpose. Readers should take a look at what he has to say."
-Jim Calhoun, Three-time NCAA champion, UConn Men's basketball

Review on Hoopville coming soon!

Coaching Changes and NBA Draft Early Entrants

The coaching carousel is moving. Keep track of the latest coaching changes right here on Hoopville.

Also, keep track of players who have declared early for the NBA Draft.

Hoopville Podcasts

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – January 18, 2018

January 18, 2018 by

In our latest podcast, we talk about big road wins for a few teams, including a couple of bluebloods that looked destined for losses, as well as an unsettled Big Ten beyond one team, an SEC where you shouldn’t pay attention to bracketologists, and the problems with a proposed earlier start to the college basketball season.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – January 11, 2018

January 11, 2018 by

In our latest podcast, we talk about several big pieces of news away from game play, one of which puts a lot in perspective. We also talk about the lack of dominant teams and how this has shown up in the results, especially this past weekend.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – January 4, 2018

January 4, 2018 by

In our latest podcast, we start with a big game in the Big East, then move on to the sudden lack of undefeated teams, a big injury in the ACC, and a powerhouse that looks vulnerable in a stacked conference they have long ruled.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – December 8, 2017

December 8, 2017 by

In our latest podcast, we talk about a bizarre finish to an early-season tournament game, the Pac-12’s early struggles, Florida teams going in different directions and two northeast teams trending less relevant even as they excite fans at a famous arena.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – November 22, 2017

November 22, 2017 by

In our pre-Thanksgiving podcast, we look at a key injury that is likely to be devastating for his team and an under-the-radar 4-0 week, then move on to some early SEC impressions and a couple of teams that just continue to win.

Phil Kasiecki on Twitter

Recruiting Coverage

Lincoln captures Hamilton Park title

August 15, 2017 by

For the first time, a public school won the Hamilton Park Summer League, and they were led by a big effort from a junior point guard in the title game.

Notes from a day at the 2017 Boston Shootout

June 12, 2017 by

Some news and notes coming from the second and final day of action at the 2017 Boston Shootout, where the host program provided plenty of talent, but so did a program that produced a team that beat them.

Notes from a day at the 2017 Northeast Hoops Festival

April 11, 2017 by

The Northeast Hoops Festival helped bring in the new spring travel season in New England, and we have notes from some of Saturday’s action.

2016 Boston Back to School Showcase notes

September 12, 2016 by

We look back at the 2016 Boston Back to School Showcase, where a couple of Boston City League teams were among the most impressive on the day.

2016 Hoopville Spring Finale championship recap

June 28, 2016 by

We look back at the championship games of the 2016 Hoopville Spring Finale, which had a big local flavor as one might have expected.