Bucknell finishes first semester on high note with 92-79 win at La Salle

Courtesy of BucknellBison.com

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Nate Sestina scored a career-high 24 points, Kimbal Mackenzie added 19 points, and Avi Toomer posted a career-high 17 points for the second straight game to help Bucknell run past La Salle 92-79 in a frenetic affair on Tuesday night at Tom Gola Arena. The Bison go into the final exam break with two straight wins and a 4-3 record, and they remain a perfect 3-0 on the road this season.

It was a tremendous all-around effort for the Bison, who had to manage foul trouble throughout the game. All 11 players who saw action for Bucknell scored points, and nine of the 11 had assists as the Bison shot 56 percent overall and went 11-for-24 from the 3-point arc, despite an 0-for-6 start.

Toomer had another terrific performance, adding six assists, six rebounds and three steals to his 17 points. He hit 4 of 6 from 3-point range, including two in a row around the five-minute mark of the second half to help the Bison thwart a La Salle comeback attempt and keep the Explorers winless on the season.

“This was a good win on the road against a team that is much more talented that its record suggests,” said head coach Nathan Davis. “We knew La Salle was going to be hungry for a win and that they would play a physical game with a lot of full-court pressure. We made a few mistakes here and there that we will look to clean up, but for the most part we handled it pretty well and actually ended up scoring quite a few points against their pressure. The guys will now turn their full attention to final exams, and then we will get ready for a difficult road stretch starting with Ohio State.”

Even though La Salle finished with 79 points, Bucknell was stout defensively for the second straight game. The Bison held the Explorers to 34-percent shooting on the night, including 6-for-22 from 3-point distance. Bucknell forced 18 turnovers, four of them coming on drawn charges from Mackenzie, who now has taken nine on the season.

Much of La Salle’s scoring came at the foul line and on put-backs. The Explorers hit 29 of 35 free throws, and they flipped 20 offensive rebounds into 23 second-chance points. Ed Croswell had 10 offensive boards among his game-high 14 on the night, giving him a double-double with his 11 points. Jack Clark came off the bench to lead the hosts with 21 points, 10 coming at the foul line, in his second collegiate game.

Bucknell led by as many as 20 at 64-44, but La Salle closed within nine with 6:44 to go. A big driving layup to beat the shot clock by Ben Robertson and then the pair of Toomer 3-pointers proved big. The Bison iced the game at the foul line to close out a marathon affair that featured a combined 54 fouls and 67 free-throw attempts.

After closing the first half with a 7-1 run to go up 40-34 at the break, the Bison took over the game in the first nine minutes of the second half. They outscored the Explorers 24-10 in that span, with back-to-back treys from Toomer and Moore, followed by a pair of free throws by Toomer stretching the lead to 20 at 64-44.

La Salle, which built a 12-point lead on Villanova before falling 85-78 in its most recent game on Saturday, would not go away. Jamil Moultrie cashed back-to-back treys to reduce the 20-point margin to 14, and then he had a wide open look at a third in a row rim out.

A layup from Miles Brookins cut it to 65-54 before Mackenzie halted a 10-1 run with a big 3-pointer. Mackenzie had been 0-for-6 from the arc before swishing one from the deep left corner off a feed from Jimmy Sotos. La Salle answered with a 3-point play from Brookins and a tip-in from Croswell to get within nine, but the Bison were able to trade baskets to keep the Explorers from getting any closer.

Sestina scored six straight Bucknell points in one stretch, the last four coming on a pair of dunks. On the first one, La Salle pressed on Bucknell’s inbounds pass under its own basket, but the Explorers forgot all about Sestina standing all alone at the other end of the floor. Robertson found him with a 70-foot pass over the top, and Sestina had an easy flush. On the latter, Toomer outhustled two Explorers for a loose ball on the baseline and saved it to Sestina under the hoop.

Robertson then had a steal and took a charge on Bucknell’s next two defensive possessions, and then with the shot clock winding down he drove it from the arc to the rim for a layup and a 76-63 lead. Toomer splashed his third and fourth 3-pointers, and then the Bison went 10-for-14 at the line in the final 3:47.

Bucknell shot 62.5 percent (15-24) from the field in the second half, and the Bison finished the game with 21 assists on 29 field goals. The Bison finished the first half with four players with two fouls, and they finished the game with five players on four fouls. But the bench came up big with 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting.

After missing their first six 3-point attempts of the night, the Bison hit their next six in succession, and they maintained small leads throughout much of the first half. It was tied at 33-all when Sestina knocked down a triple, helping Bucknell to a 7-1 run over the final 2:23 of the half.

The period ended in spectacular fashion, with a buzzer-beating, inbounds alley-oop from Andrew Funk to fellow freshman Kahliel Spear. Initially Bucknell was ruled to have committed a shot-clock violation, but a replay review put one second on the clock, and the Bison capitalized on a well-run set play to end the half.

Funk hit two 3-pointers earlier in the half, giving him four in the last two games, and Nate Jones and Walter Ellis also canned treys off the bench.

Bucknell is now 3-0 on the road to start a season for the first time since 2005-06. That season, the Bison defeated Rider, Syracuse and Niagara en route to a school-record 27 wins.

Bucknell will now have 11 days off for final exams before resuming the schedule on Dec. 15 at No. 17/19 Ohio State. Tip-off is slated for noon on the Big Ten Network.

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