By Chuck Burton
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — Sojka Pavillion went silent.
Early in their contest against second-placed American this week, last year’s Patriot League player of the year, Bison forward Mike Muscala, dove for a loose ball and got a gash on his chin, requiring a trip to the locker room.
But after the Eagles used his absence to surge to a seven point lead, Muscala would return after a six-minute absence to help rally the Bison to a 28-25 halftime lead – and, eventually, a 67-61 victory at home, preserving their perfect Patriot League record and maintaining a two-game lead on their closest competition.
Muscala’s stitches in his chin are a testimony to the toughness of this Bison team – and their postseason chances this year.
Let’s face it: when many people stop and think about Patriot League basketball, they think about Bucknell. Their two NCAA first-round wins in the early 200s against the likes of Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks and Stan Heath’s Arkansas Razorbacks are now the stuff of tournament legend.
While it’s way too early to say if the 16-6 Bison will take down another big conference foe in the tournament, Bucknell has roared out to an undefeated 6-0 record in Patriot League play and has out-distanced their competition thus far in the Patriot League.
That’s thanks in no small part to Muscala, whose 15.8 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game sit atop the Patriot League individual leaders.
Even while sitting out that six-minute stretch to get stitches, Muscala still managed to get a double-double against the Eagles (13-8, 4-2), notching 21 points and 11 rebounds.
“This is the fourth time I’ve gotten stitches since I’ve been here, so I’m kind of used to it,” Muscala told the Daily Item after the game. “It was weird coming back into the game and certainly something I don’t want to do again.”
“They really make you work for everything; you have to work for every stop on the defensive end and every basket on offense,” Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen said of his oppenents after this game. “At times we didn’t always look as pretty as we have in other games, but we found a way to make some really gritty plays against a really good team.”
Bucknell never seems to win pretty, but they’re brutally efficient in the way they dissect opponents. They lead the Patriot League in assists and field goal defense, and like the rest of the League, they make their points at the line as well – against American, they went 16 for 23 from the line.
The coming week sees three likely wins for the Bison, as they face Patriot League road games at cellar-dwellars Navy (3-16, 0-6) and Colgate (6-14, 1-5), as well as a home tilt against scrappy Army (10-11, 3-3). Assuming Paulsen’s squad doesn’t slip, they could be undefeated in league play going into the tougher part of their league schedule – and in great shape towards becoming a team that nobody would want to face come tournament time.