Patriot League roundup: Bucknell wins battle of league leaders; and more news and notes

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

First-place Bucknell tops another pre-season favorite in Holy Cross

LEWISBURG, PA. – In one of the most physical and hard-nosed games in conference play this season, Bucknell defeated Holy Cross, 63-45, to complete a series sweep of the Crusaders. Junior Abby Kapp led the Bison with 16 points and added seven rebounds and three three-pointers. Lauren Manis topped Holy Cross with 14 points but needed 17 shots to post the mark.

Don’t, don’t, don’t believe the hype

It was supposed to be a nail-biting showdown between two teams vying for home court playoff positioning. A battle between the new school champions in Bucknell–who has claimed two of the last three conference championships–against the league’s old guard and owners of 11 Patriot League titles, Holy Cross, looking to renew old glories and find some footing among the league leaders.

The match-up had intrigue: the top defensive team versus the squad that led the nation in three-point shooting for much of the season. And some storylines: two coaches, each in their first full-year as lead mentor for their respective programs, seeking—or perhaps just trying to avert–what looks like destiny at this point in the season.

The plot also revolved around how round two of this series would go for Bucknell without starting point guard Marly Walls and the impact of her absence in match-ups at both ends of the floor. The sophomore went down with a season-ending knee injury in the Bison’s 51-40 road win against Holy Cross on January 11th. Walls had 13 points, four rebounds, and three assists in that victory and was a key perimeter defender. So many noteworthy narratives but, in the end, it turned out to just be a sequel. A very good sequel, just not quite what was expected.

What happened?

Holy Cross got the start they needed but not much more. When Lauren Manis found a cutting Oluchi Ezemma for a lay-up at the buzzer, the Crusaders finished the first quarter on top, 10-9. In each of their two conference losses this season, the Bison have started slowly. They trailed 16-4 after one quarter in a loss to Boston University, and fell behind 21-10 in an upset loss to Loyola (MD). So things were looking good for the visitors. But Bucknell committed seven turnovers in the first and the Crusaders’ one-point lead felt more like a missed opportunity than a moment seized. In a back-and-forth second period, a Megan Swords lay-up gave Holy Cross a 19-18 edge with 4:12 to play in the half. It would be their last lead of the game.

The Crusaders played to their strength against the smaller Bison and looked to consistently post-up forwards Swords and Manis. That duo, along with forward Ezemma, combined to take 31 out the team’s 57 shots but could never find the rhythm and space they were looking for against the league’s best defense. The physical battles between them and Bucknell forwards Tessa Brugler, Autumn Ceppi, and Mack were street fight-like choreography and a battle worthy of a last dance in the playoffs.

Holy Cross scored the majority of their points in and around the paint, but despite their intentions, the post trio for the Crusaders could rarely find their favored post-up spots and the team’s guards couldn’t hit enough perimeter shots to extend the Bucknell defense and give their bigs the space they needed. The guards shot just 7-for-26 from the floor for 26.9%.

Return of the Mack

Good coaching is like good officiating—the errors tend to stand out the most and draw the most attention. When things are good, it seems like no one is watching. But if you kept your eye on Bucknell Head Coach Trevor Woodruff you saw several small adjustments that made an impact for his team. One of those chess moves seemed small, but it produced an emotional dagger.

With 10 seconds remaining in the half and Bucknell gaining a dead-ball possession, Woodruff substituted Ellie Mack—who’d been sitting on the bench with two early fouls since the 4:44 mark—into the game. The senior sharp-shooter nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to match the Bison’s biggest lead at 28-24 and provide a mental boost that carried over to the second half.

Out of the locker room, Mack scored her team’s first bucket to help lead a 6-0 run, give Bucknell a 34-24 lead, and force a Holy Cross time-out. Spanning the second and third quarters, the key 11-1 run helped build a lead the hosts would not relinquish. The Crusaders would get no closer than seven points the rest of the way.

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish (and for Bucknell, it’s both)

Bucknell scored the last points of each quarter. They also scored the first points of every quarter but the first. The emotional swings of executing well on late possessions or digging in for a tough, physical defensive stop and denying a last second score seemed to energize the home team and deflate the visitors.

In a game played as physically and with as much intensity as this one, those swings were significant. For Woodruff, that physicality and mental toughness in key moments has been a focus. “I think we’re getting tougher. Our mindset is getting better,” he said. “We’re starting to develop some calluses as I like to say. We’ve done a lot of work up to this point and it’s starting to show, not necessarily playing great, but in how we play.”

Live by the three…….

Heading into their first match-up with Bucknell back on January 11th, the Crusaders were ranked number one in the nation in three-point shooting percentage, shooting 114-for-271, good for 42.1%. They had converted 10 or more threes in four games to that point and had a 10-5 record. Against UMass, they hit a program-record 14 three-pointers.

And the top four three-point shooters in the Patriot League back then? All Crusaders. Manis at 51.3%, Kathryn Pedi at 43.8%, Madalyn Smith at 42.6%, and Avery LaBarbera shooting 40.4%.

….Die by the three

Coming into this rematch in Lewisburg, Holy Cross was 14th in the nation in three-point shooting at 37.0%, converting 169-for-457. That mark was second to Bucknell in the conference who came into the game shooting a league-leading 37.3% from distance.

The Crusaders record is 5-6 since tipping off against the Bison in January. And they came into this contest shooting just 55-for-186 from that date, good for just 29.5%. Each of those league-leaders has dropped a bit in percentage coming into round two with Bucknell: Manis at a league-leading 45.2%, Pedi at 39.6%, LaBarbera at 36.2%, and Smith at 35.4%.

In the rematch, the team shot just 2-for-13 from three, for 15.4%. With 8:03 left in the fourth quarter, Nicole Morris sank a three-pointer. It was the first field goal from outside of 10-feet in the game for Holy Cross. So what happened? If Holy Cross is to make a strong run into the playoffs, they’ll need to make some adjustments to their ball screen motion offense and find a way to get open looks for an excellent group of shooters.

Beyond the box score

The focus for the first-place Bison was to defend the three-point shooters and control Manis as much as possible while limiting second shots. They won that rebounding battle 40-to-29 against a tough Crusader frontcourt. Guard Taylor O’Brien had 8 rebounds at the half and finished with a team-high 11.

“If you can defend and rebound like that you have a chance and that was really the story of the game,” said Woodruff. “I thought we limited Manis enough. We guarded the three point line enough. And for most of night, they just got one and done and that’s what we want to be about.”

Bucknell also employed a more aggressive approach to posting up and attacking Holy Cross in the post in the second half. The Bison did not attempt a free throw in the first half. Woodruff directed specific match-ups and was able to utilize junior guard Abby Kapp in the post. “I think that just situationally, we looked at matchups and I think that that was just a mismatch that coach saw,” said Kapp. ”So I called the play and I think that we executed it pretty well.”

What does this win mean for Bucknell?

It means they are 5-0 against the other three teams who received first-place votes in the league’s pre-season poll and that they have established themselves as the clear team to beat.

This Saturday, Bucknell hosts Lehigh (16-9, 8-6) who is in a three-way tie for fourth place. The pre-season favorites for the title, the Mountain Hawks have lacked consistent perimeter play but still have an experienced senior line-up led by Camryn Buhr. A Bison win gives them the season sweep and the inside track for the top seed. Bucknell embarrassed Lehigh on their home floor back in January, 71-50. They led by 20 points or more for most of the game.

Where does Holy Cross fit into the playoff picture?

They are currently in a three-way tie for fourth place with Lehigh and Lafayette—two teams that still have a game to play with league-leader Bucknell. The Crusaders play three out of their final four games at home and three of those teams are below them in the standings. They should climb.

A fourth-place finish seems likely, but if things don’t come together for this team, sixth-place is also a possibility. They won’t win the title without making some adjustments on the offensive end. But they are one of the most talented teams in the league and a dangerous draw come playoff time.

Wednesday, February 19th scores:

Army-77 Loyola (MD)-55

Bucknell-63 Holy Cross-45

Colgate-82 Lehigh-73

Boston University-47 Lafayette-40

American-48 Navy-40

Current Standings

Bucknell (19-6, 12-2)

Colgate (18-7, 10-4)

Boston University (15-10, 10-4)

Lehigh (16-9, 8-6)

Holy Cross (15-10, 8-6)

Lafayette (12-12, 8-6)

American (10-14, 6-8)

Loyola (MD) (7-18, 4-10)

Navy (7-18, 2-12)

Army (6-19, 2-12)

Game of the Week:

Colgate at Holy Cross @2:00p.m. February 22nd

A vital game to determine playoff seeding for both teams. Second-place Colgate is looking to make a push for the top spot and they’ll need to sweep their final four games to do it. The danger for the Raiders is getting caught looking ahead to next week’s contest against first-place Bucknell. Holy Cross has some work to do to climb the standings but a win would position them well for a strong finish. Lauren Manis shot 1-for-10 in the first game. Don’t count on that happening again. Look for a big game from Manis.

Each team likes pace and both can shoot it. It should be a wild one in Worcester. Expect a high-scoring affair and a down-to-the-wire finish.

The last meeting: February 1, 2020. Colgate used their home court edge to fuel a 71-60 win. The Raiders jumped out to a 14-4 first quarter lead. Their transition game was the difference—Colgate outscored the Crusaders 30-6 in that category and outshot them 47.3% to 34.9%. Rachel Thompson scored 23 points and Abby Schubiger added 20 for the Raiders in the win. Megan Swords led Holy Cross with 18 points on 9-of-17 shooting.

Tune in to Patriot League action this weekend:

February 22nd

Navy at Army @11:00a.m.

Lehigh at Bucknell @2:00p.m.

Boston University at American @2:00p.m.

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

Lafayette at Loyola (MD) @4:00p.m.

League news and notes:

  • Senior guard Rachel Thompson scored a season-high 33 points in an 82-73 win over Lehigh. It was the most points scored by a Raider since 2005.
  • Lafayette’s Natalie Kucowski recorded her 14th double-double of the season with a team-high 22 points and 19 rebounds in last week’s loss to Lehigh.
  • Alisa Fallon of Army posted her fourth double-double of the season with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
  • Colgate leads the Patriot League with 17.5 assists per game.
  • Forward Emma Grothaus led Lehigh with 21 points in their loss to Colgate.
  • Stephanie Karcz of Loyola (MD) leads the league with 5.4 steals per game.
  • Freshman Sydney Johnson of Boston University leads all rookies in minutes played with 30.2 minutes per game—good for 18th in the conference. Johnson has played in each of BU’s 25 games.
  • Sophomore guard Jade Edwards scored 22 point in American’s 48-40 win over Navy.
  • Boston University’s seven-game win streak in their longest in the Patriot League.

Patriot League Player of the Week:

Lauren Manis, Holy Cross College, Senior Forward

  • Sparked a comeback from a 24-point deficit against Lehigh by scoring 18 points and 13 rebounds in a 65-62 win. The turnaround was the fifth largest comeback in Division I history.
  • Led the Crusaders to a key road win over Lafayette, 57-49, with 32 points and 16 rebounds.
  • Scoring 17.9 points per game to the lead the league.
  • Leads the league in three-point shooting accuracy with 33-for-73 for 45.2%

Patriot League Rookie of the Week:

Nyah Garrison, Navy, Freshman Guard

  • Posted a career-high 23 points in a loss to Boston University. She shot 8-for-9 from the field for the game.
  • Averaged 10.5 ppg and 73.3% shooting from the field (11-for-15) for the week.
  • Five rebound against American was a season-high.
  • After starting the season 3-for-11 from the free throw line, has hit last 10-of-11.

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