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As more players develop, Bucknell becomes a clear contender

January 27, 2015 Columns No Comments

BOSTON – It’s rare that one man carries a team all the way to a conference title in college basketball, no matter how good that player is. Chris Hass is certainly not going to carry Bucknell to a Patriot League title, as one example of interest, despite his great shooting and overall development after a breakout season a year ago. But with a supporting cast developing around him, the Bison are clicking offensively and emerging as a dangerous team, as well as a leader in the league as we near the halfway point.

A great example of this has come during the Bison’s four-game winning streak, the last two of which have come on the road. It’s been tough for them to win on the road, in part because they played some tough non-league games away from home. The offense has really clicked lately, however, and that’s been a big difference. While Hass is leading the way, he now has a lot more help.

“We’re starting to figure out how to play with each other offensively,” said Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen. “Ironically, as other guys have started to play better offensively, that’s made it easier for Chris (Hass). He got some more open looks tonight because the other guys were able to score.”

It’s unusual for a Patriot League team to start two freshmen, and Bucknell hasn’t done that the entire season. But Nana Foulland has started every game in the middle, and Stephen Brown has moved into the starting lineup the last four games and isn’t going anywhere. Foulland has also put up better numbers in Patriot League play, so he’s part of this emergence of youth. J.C. Show has also been part of this, having started three games recently, though he’s also been playing while a bit banged up.

Brown scored 15 points on Saturday on 4-5 shooting, and he added three assists with one turnover. In all, the Bison had 19 assists and seven turnovers, and those numbers are becoming more the norm for this team as they have a 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio in Patriot League play. During the current winning streak, they have exactly twice as many assists as turnovers. Brown’s improvement, along with that of players like Ryan Frazier, John Azzinaro and Show, is taking pressure off of Hass. Paulsen said that Brown was used to playing fast and had to adjust to playing a slower, more controlled pace, and that has come a little faster than he thought it might. It’s a little different from many guys, who normally have to adjust to the college game being faster.

“He’s dynamic and explosive, and he’s grown tremendously in that regard,” Paulsen said.

Even as younger players are giving a big hand, the veterans are a big part of this as well. Right before the last media timeout, you saw experience come in when senior Steven Kaspar had the ball at the top of the key, saw the defense leave a gaping hole and drove in for an uncontested layup to put the Bison up 85-70 and help seal the game. Hass cited Kaspar, who had nine points on 3-4 shooting and four assists with just one turnover, as one of the reasons the offense has been better of late.

With all of that, life for Hass is a bit easier, and nowhere was that clearer than on Saturday. It helped that Boston University didn’t do a good job defensively on Bucknell’s shooters for a while, but that just helped Hass & Co. gain confidence. Hass scored 28 points on 10-16 shooting, including 6-7 on three-pointers. Several of them were back-breakers, either stopping momentum the Terriers were trying to build up or continuing a run by the Bison.

“Those are hard shots,” said BU head coach Joe Jones. “You’re talking about a guy sprinting off a screen, catching and moving away from the rim. Whatever you do, they’re going to take advantage of.”

Bucknell plays three of the next four games at home, including a showdown with Colgate on Saturday at Sojka Pavilion. They will try to avenge a 68-62 loss earlier this month at Colgate, back at a time when the offense wasn’t running as well and in a stretch where they couldn’t string together a couple of wins in a row. They are in a different place now.

The Patriot League race is a jumbled mess right now as we near the halfway point. All ten teams are within three games of each other, and the results have borne out that any team can beat another team on any given night. So not much is certain, but we can feel pretty good in saying that Bucknell is playing very much like a contender right now.

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