Patriot League roundup: Bucknell in Puerto Rico; Navy home for the holiday; and more news and notes

Bucknell's Ellie Mack. (photo courtesy of Bucknell Athletics)
Bucknell's Ellie Mack. (photo courtesy of Bucknell Athletics) /

Bucknell makes a splash in Puerto Rico

Bucknell edged Cincinnati 56-48 to cap a two-game sweep at the Puerto Rico Clasico tournament. The island getaway may have given the Bison and first-year Head Coach Trevor Woodruff the sense of identity their group is building toward.

“We’re very capable of playing with very good opponents, and if we can continue to defend and make that our identity then I think the sky is the limit for this group,” said Woodruff in an interview with High Post Hoops.

The Bison defense held the opposition to just five points and a 2-of-14 effort from the field in the fourth quarter. Bucknell’s pack-line style defense forced Cincinnati to beat them from the perimeter and they misfired all game, leading to a 1-of-14 performance from three-point range. Cincinnati is shooting 18.1% from distance and has made just 19-for-105 on the season.

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The grind-it-out win over the Bearcats is an early-season stepping stone for a team finding itself and its identity. “We came together after that Cincinnati game and we said this is what we want Bison basketball to be,” declared Woodruff. “And it won’t always be pretty, but it will be tough, smart, and together—and that’s kind of our mantra.  And I thought that game epitomized those three things.”

Leading 48-44 with six minutes remaining in the fourth, Ally Johnson’s third three-pointer of the game pushed the margin out of reach for the struggling Bearcats. Abby Kapp led the team with 13 points, hitting three three-pointers. Senior sharp-shooter Ellie Mack struggled with a 1-for-8 effort from the field but pulled down a season-high 12 rebounds to lead the team.

The tournament’s first game was a battle of the Bison as Bucknell dispatched Howard University, 70-60. Early in the contest, Howard’s quicker line-up was able to spread out and attack the Bucknell defense off the dribble to grab a 13-12 lead at the end of the first quarter. But a Tessa Brugler jumper with 6:00 left in the second quarter gave her Bison a 19-18 lead and they never trailed again.

The two wins are a step in the right direction. But new styles on both offense and defense—together with new roles–take time and Bucknell is finding that growth and successful change are more evolutionary than revolutionary. Making the most of the new philosophies is Brugler, who led the team with 18 points against Howard.

She has been a rising star for the new-look Bison. “Tessa Brugler has really emerged,” said Woodruff. “She’s a player that had limited playing time over the last few years and has stepped into a new role as a major contributor and has just been terrific at both ends of the floor—both scoring and rebounding. And defensively she provides energy for the team.”

Brugler and Bucknell move ahead from a successful holiday tournament with some questions answered but plenty of tests ahead.  “I just think we’re a work in progress,” said Woodruff. “We’re nowhere near where we hope to be but for the first time I think all year we put together four solid halves–or 8 solid quarters–and we were able to beat two good teams.”

This week, Bucknell looks to continue to forge its new identity with match-ups against George Mason University on the road and a home contest against Drexel University.

The Bahama buzzer beater blues

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Lehigh walked that fine line of competitive joy and pain during both games of their Thanksgiving holiday tournament in the Bahamas. Unfortunately for the Mountain Hawks, they had a double-helping of the latter.

In the opening game of the classic at the Baha Mar Resort, Ball State edged Lehigh 54-52 with a lay-up at the buzzer by Anna Clephane. Moments before the final horn sounded, it was nearly a storybook comeback ending for sophomore Clair Steele and the Mountain Hawks.

Trailing by five, Steel nailed a three-pointer to make it 47-45 with 2:43 remaining as they fought to stay within striking distance of Ball State. Unable to close the gap, Lehigh was forced to intentionally foul with under a minute remaining. Leading 52-50, the Cardinals’ Sydney Freeman stepped to the free-throw line to ice the game with 11 seconds remaining. She missed both, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.

After advancing the ball with a timeout, Steel made an attacking drive down the lane and drew a foul to earn two free throws.  Steel sank both shots with 6.0 seconds left to tie the game. A Ball State timeout set up the final play which resulted in a missed three-pointer from Freeman. But Clephane came flying in for a rebound and quick put-back as the horn sounded to snap Lehigh’s five-game winning streak.

The excitement of that buzzer-beating finish had barely faded before Lehigh tipped off against Fordham less than 24 hours later. The chance for redemption was nearly fully realized as the Mountain Hawks went into halftime with a 31-23 lead and maintained control of the game until the final minute of the fourth quarter.

But those final sixty seconds were a countdown to another heartbreaking finish for the Patriot League pre-season favorites. Leading 57-53, Lehigh appeared to get the defensive stop they needed but surrendered a key offensive rebound to Fordham’s Megan Jonassen.

On the rebound, Jonassen found teammate Kaitlyn Downey who hit a three-pointer to cut the deficit to one at 57-56.  A scoreless offensive trip for Lehigh gave Fordham one last possession and they made the most of it. With seven seconds on the clock, Anna DeWolfe faked a drive and dished to Downey who hit another three-pointer with .01 on the clock to give the Rams the dramatic win, 59-57. Fordham, now 3-5, shot 69.2% from the field in the final frame to pull out the victory. Downey’s two three-pointers in the final minute were Fordham’s only made threes in the fourth quarter.

What does it mean moving forward for Lehigh? Now 5-2, Lehigh faces the adversity of losing–in heartbreaking fashion—for the first time this season. Losses at the buzzer can make a team more determined—or it can shake its confidence in future close games. While tough losses can sometimes allow for doubt on younger squads, the Mountain Hawks are a senior-laden team.  They’ve been down this road before.  Will they respond with confidence and belief in that next buzzer beating moment?

No place like home for Navy

Navy had a three-game holiday home-stand and swept through the competition to run their record to 5-3. The Mids capped a busy week with a 61-46 win over La Salle University in the championship game of the 2019 Navy Classic. They are now 4-0 at home.

Consistent scoring is an issue for Navy and they lack a go-to scorer. But a ‘strength in numbers’ approach came together over the holiday week as the Navy offense found a trio of scorers in each game who posted double-figures. In the match-up against La Salle, they were led by Sophie Gatzounas who posted a game-high 15 points. Senior teammates Morgan Taylor and Mary Kate Ulasewicz each added 14 and 10 points respectively.

Head Coach Stefanie Pemper is known for her team’s defensive excellence—and Navy made their defense and rebounding efforts count in the tournament final. They held the Explorers to 34.0% from the field (17-50) and outrebounded them, 45-32, grabbing 22 offensive boards.

In the opening game of the Classic, Navy defeated Kennesaw State 82-62. The Mids shot 51.6% from the field and were led by Jennifer Coleman and Gatzounas who had 18 points apiece. Ulasewicz added 17 points and secured a career-high 10 rebounds. Kennesaw State was playing their third game without point guard and leading scorer, Kamiyah Street, who was arrested and charged with murder last month. She is no longer with the team.

Gatzounas was named the tournament MVP for her efforts against La Salle and Kennesaw State. She averaged 16.5 PPG and 7.5 RPG while shooting 61.9% from the floor—including 66.7% from three-point range.

Navy kicked off their home-stand with a 67-59 victory over Air Force in a service academy battle. The Mids used a strong shooting performance from behind the three-point arc (10 for 20) and balanced scoring throughout their line-up to keep the Falcons at bay.

Taylor led the team with a season-high 16 points while Jennifer Coleman added 15. Freshman Lindsay Llewellyn a career-best 11 points, including three three-pointers.

Can Navy find a consistent line-up moving forward? It’s that time of season when the reality of role-definition takes shape for both players and coaches. Seven different players have started games for the Mids this season with nine players seeing at least 15 minutes of action per game. Has Coach Pemper found the winning formula by emphasizing her team’s depth? A 3-0 week says Navy is showing improvement. They’ll look to continue their winning streak with a match-up against Fairfield University (1-4) on the road this week.

Tune in to Patriot League action this week:

December 3rd

Bloomsburg at Lehigh @6:00p.m.

December 4th

Bucknell at George Mason @11:00a.m.

LIU-Brooklyn at Army @5:00p.m.

Navy at Fairfield @6:00p.m.

Siena at Colgate @7:00p.m.

Holy Cross at Rhode Island @7:00p.m.

December 5th

Boston University at UC-Davis @9:00p.m.

December 6th

Loyola (MD) at Mount St. Mary’s @7:00p.m.

December 7th

Lafayette at Monmouth @2:00p.m.

Boston University at California @5:00p.m.

December 8th

Loyola (MD) at Maryland @1:00p.m.

Lehigh at Mount St. Mary’s @1:00p.m.

Minnesota at American @2:00p.m.

Drexel at Bucknell @2:00p.m.

Holy Cross at UMass @2:00p.m.

Colgate at Alabama @3:00p.m.

League news and notes:

  • Natalie Kucowski secured a season-high 18 rebounds in Lafayette’s 60-53 OT win against Manhattan
  • Boston University’s Maggie Pina scored 12 points in a loss to Harvard. The freshman’s efforts led the team.
  • Jade Edwards led American University in scoring for both games in the St. Joseph’s Classic. She scored 21 points against the hosts.  She followed that performance with a 14-point, 11-rebound effort against Buffalo.
  • Three different players have posted double-doubles for Holy Cross this season: Lauren Manis, Avery LaBarbera, and Megan Swords.
  • Loyola (MD) freshman guard Ava Therien had season-bests in rebounds (7) and assists (5) against Wright State.
  • Colgate moved to 6-2 with an 85-72 win over Niagara University.
  • Navy scored a season-high 10 three-pointers in a 67-59 win over Air Force. The Mids went 10 for 20 in the game.
  • Lauren Manis claimed her 41st double-double for Holy Cross in an 83-71 win over Brown University.
  • Stephanie Karcz set a Loyola (MD) program record for career steals. She now has 349.
  • Colgate (6-2) has matched the best start in program history, set by the 2003-2004 team which went on to win the Patriot League Championship.

Patriot League Player of the Week:

Alisa Fallon, Army, Sophomore Guard

  • Scored a career-high 22 points in an OT win against Fairleigh Dickinson.
  • Notched her first career double-double against TCU. She scored 13 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
  • Averaged 17.5 PPG and 9.5 RPG in leading Army to a 1-1 week.
  • Leads Army in scoring with 12.6 PPG for the season.

Patriot League Rookie of the Week:

Sabria Hunter, Army, Freshman Forward

  • Posted 12.0 PPG and 11.0 RPG in helping her team to a 1-1 record.
  • Shared team-high honors with 13 points while collecting seven rebounds against TCU.
  • Scored 11 points and collected 15 rebounds in OT win over Fairleigh Dickinson.
  • Leads Army with 9.3 RPG on the season.

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