Courtesy of BucknellBison.com
LEWISBURG, Pa. – A record-setting performance from Bucknell senior Nate Sestina and two critical 3-pointers from classmate Kimbal Mackenzie down the stretch led the Bison men’s basketball team to a 93-78 victory over Holy Cross on Monday night at Sojka Pavilion. Sestina made all 11 of his field goal attempts without a miss, setting the Bucknell single-game record and tying the Patriot League mark on his way to a career-high 32 points.
Bucknell won its third straight game and improved its record to 10-7 overall and 4-1 in conference play, while Holy Cross is now 11-7 overall and 2-3 against league opponents. The Bison took a half-game lead on Lehigh atop the Patriot League standings. The Mountain Hawks host American on Wednesday, and then Bucknell and Lehigh will meet in Bethlehem on Saturday.
Sestina made his lone three-point field goal attempt and all 10 of his two-point field goals, while also making nine out of 10 free throw attempts. Donald Brown held the previous Bucknell mark of made field goals in a game without a miss, making all 10 of his shots against Lehigh, exactly 15 years ago, Jan. 14, 2004. Additionally, 32 points tied the Sojka Pavilion record for points scored by a Bison player, matching the output by Chris Haas, on March 5, 2015, against Holy Cross, and Zach Thomas, on Jan. 31, 2018, against Army. Sestina also had a team-high seven rebounds in the victory.
The Bison rode a dominant first-half performance to the victory, making 62.5 percent (20-for-32) of their shots, including eight 3-pointers, en route to 51 first-half points and a 16-point lead. Bucknell’s lead grew to as large as 26 in the second half following a Nate Jones three that made the score 75-49 with 13:25 on the clock.
With Sestina on the bench with four fouls and backup center Paul Newman already having fouled out, the Crusaders went on a 17-2 run to cut the score to 77-66 with 7:17 left. Mackenzie, who scored 17 points on the night and went over 1,000 for his career, made a 3-pointer on the next possession to push the Bison lead back to 14 and end a six-minute plus stretch without a field goal. The Crusaders would get as close as nine, 84-75, with 5:18 remaining on a 3-point play by Jehvye Floyd.
Jones was responsible for perhaps the biggest play of the game just under the four-minute mark. He pulled down an offensive rebound in the lane and kicked the ball out for another Mackenzie three that pushed the lead back into double-digits. Floyd traveled on a drive to the basket at the other end, and then after the final television timeout, Sestina came back on after a 4:22 hiatus and immediately finished a layup off a nice feed from Jimmy Sotos for a commanding 14-point lead with 3:11 to play. The Bison held the Crusaders to just one more field goal the rest of the way.
Avi Toomer added 13 points, six rebounds and three steals for the Bison. He was one of the ringleaders of that big first-half flurry with three 3-pointers. Sotos scored 10 points, handed out eight assists and grabbed five rebounds, while Bruce Moore had eight points and a team-high 10 rebounds. A week ago, Moore’s career high for rebounds in a game was seven, but he has now pulled down 15 and 10 in the last two games.
Floyd, who was named Patriot League Player of the Week earlier in the day, led the Crusaders with 25 points, while Austin Butler scored 17 points and pulled down nine rebounds. A big key for Bucknell was holding Holy Cross’ leading scorer Jacob Granderson to six points on 2-for-8 shooting.
Bucknell has made a habit out of falling behind early in games this season, but that was not the case in this one. Sparked by a pair of threes from Toomer and back-to-back buckets from John Meeks off the bench, the Bison led 17-6 after six minutes of play.
Both teams were lighting it up from long range with point piling up left and right. Holy Cross banged three treys in a row as part of an 11-5 run over a span of just 1:27 to pull within 22-17, but then Bucknell answered with 13 straight points, keyed by consecutive triples from Moore, Toomer and Sotos, to go up 35-17.
Mackenzie’s 1,000th point came on a 3-pointer at the 7:27 mark, and then Sestina followed with a layup to make it 40-19. The Bison led 51-35 at the half, and then really spread it out behind eight straight Sestina points and a trey from Jones that vaulted the margin all the way up to 26.
Mackenzie became Bucknell’s 43rd 1,000-point scorer. By the end of the night he had 1,012 career points, which pushed him past Patrick King into 42nd place on the all-time scoring list.
In addition to Sestina, the only other player in Patriot League history to go 11-for-11 from the field in a game was Army’s Matt Wilson, earlier this year against UMass-Lowell. Sestina’s mark is the best ever in a game between two Patriot League teams.
While the torrid shooting pace slowed a bit in the second half, both teams shot over 50 percent for the game. The Bison finished at 51.7 percent while hitting 12 of 36 from the 3-point arc. They had a terrific night at the foul line, connecting on 19 of 22. The Bison tallied 23 assists on 31 made field goals, with only 12 turnovers, and at the other end they collected 10 steals among the Crusaders’ 12 turnovers.
Holy Cross shot 50.8 percent overall, making this Bucknell’s first win when the opponent shoots 50 percent or better in more than five years. The last time it happened was Jan. 14, 2014, when Bucknell won at Lafayette 96-86 despite the Leopards shooting an even 50 percent. The Bison had lost 24 straight games when the opponent made at least half its field-goal attempts.
The Crusaders finished 8-for-21 from 3-point range and 8-for-13 from the foul line.
Bucknell will next play at Lehigh on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Stabler Arena.