Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson, Ben Hazel & Ian Hummer:
No matter what Princeton threw at Bucknell's Mike Muscala, no matter how the Tigers defended the Bison's talented 6'11" center, they could not stop him.
Muscala scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half, including seven straight capped off by his first three point shot of the season that turned a 33-29 Princeton lead into a three point Bucknell advantage, as the Bison defeated the Tigers by six. Muscala also had a game high 12 rebounds.
“Muscala is a very good player,” stated Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson. “When our two centers can’t handle him it is a long night for us. The only time he didn’t score was when he was on the bench.”
Ian Hummer countered with his own double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Tigers but Douglas Davis was limited offensively to only the first and last Princeton baskets of the game.
John Comfort (11) and Ben Hazel (10) had unexpected career highs for the orange and black off the bench in defeat.
Davis opened the night’s scoring with a long step back jumper before going dark. Then Bucknell ran off 10 straight. Joe Willman scored to his right in the post over Patrick Saunders, who was making his first start of the season in place of Will Barrett. A Muscala putback of Bryan Cohen’s quick shot running the floor doubled the Bucknell lead.
Switching Hummer to guard Muscala for a brief period didn’t help matters. Bryson Johnson knocked down a right baseline jumper and a no look diagonal bounce pass from Johnson after a great deal of dribbling across the lane to Muscala for a two handed slam deepened the hole.
Princeton responded with 13 straight, many of those points coming from unexpected sources and many of the shots coming from the same spot on the floor.
Mack Darrow missed a three pointer up top and Barrett grabbed the offensive board, using the rim as a shield to lay the ball home. Hazel to Barrett for a jumper on the right side drew Princeton within four.
Barrett set a screen and handed off on the right wing to Hazel behind the arc. Hazel’s shot was long but Barrett was able to curl in for an offensive rebound. From the exact same spot Davis found Hazel for his first three point shot of the season.
Willman was called setting an illegal screen to give the ball back to the Tigers. Darrow’s screen was perfectly legal and seldom-used senior John Comfort stepped behind for his first successful three point shot since February of his freshman year versus Dartmouth.
Comfort wasn’t done. Same location. Same distributor. Same shot. Same result. 15-10 Tigers.
A third three of the half from Comfort – faking his man in the air and stepping left for an open look - provided the Tigers a four point lead with 7:23 to go in the half.
Muscala’s putback over Brendan Connolly halved that advantage. Connolly went to the bench with just under seven minutes to play after fouling Muscala on a quick turn and shoot. The 78.9% shooter off the line missed both his free throws.
Hummer blew by Cohen to his right for his first field goal and the Tigers were up five again, but when Penn transfer Brian Fitzpatrick took the pass from Cohen sliding into the lane and laid it home the score was knotted at 21.
A posting Hazel was slapped by Steve Kaspar going up but Hazel missed both his chances at the line. At the other side of Sojka Pavilion Fitzpatrick received a Kasper pass inside for two.
Great ball movement from Davis in the lane to T.J. Bray in the far corner to Saunders off the left wing for three made it a 24-24 ball game.
Princeton got possession back when a drive muscled up by Cohen rolled off. Hummer set up the Tigers at the free throw line and lowered his shoulder but his shot was too strong.
The shot clock and game clock even, Willman was able to post up Davis and a foul came on the floor with :06.1 showing. Willman made one of two, the rebound of his miss coming to Hummer who found Davis streaking up the far sideline. Davis had time to get into the lane but his shot as he bounced off a Bucknell player bounced off the backboard as time expired.
Even with Princeton’s two leading scorers Hummer (3) and Davis (2) combining for a meager five points, the Tigers were down just 26-25 at intermission.
“When guys step up and make open shots it gives you confidence as a team,” said Hummer of the lift provided by Hazel and Comfort. “We knew we were in the game and we didn’t play up to out potential. “
Princeton hit 9-24 attempts (37.5%) in the first half. They were 5-16 from three point range as a team (31.3%) and continued to struggle at the free throw line, going 1-4 (25.0%).
Bucknell was one made field goal better in as many attempts, 10-24 (41.7%). Their only shot from outside the arc went in and they made half their free throws (4-8, 50.0%).
The second half began on a positive note for the Tigers. Saunders put the ball on the floor when he saw an attack angle and no second line of defense. Saunders scooped in a right-handed layup as Johnson slid into the circle under the basket way late. The bucket was good and Saunders completed the three point play.
Willman squared over Saunders in the post for the night’s fourth tie. A Hummer spinning righty push shot rattled down, answered by Cohen going by Bray to his right off the glass. Cohen could not make his free throw and it was 29 all.
Saunders stepped into the lane and intercepted a leave by Cohen looking for Muscala. As Princeton came up the floor, Davis on the near sideline saw Hummer streaking and hoisted an alley oop opportunity. Hummer grabbed the ball with both hands and tried to lay it off the glass as Cohen fouled the lower portion of his body. The shot was no good but the two free throws that followed were.
A more aggressive Connolly got his man in the air off the block and drove across the lane but left his point blank jumper too short of the rim.
Hummer drove to his left and Barrett opened up for a flat-flooted two point jumper on the right wing. It was 33-29 Tigers with 14:25 showing.
As Princeton missed many of the open shots they had been connecting on to this point, Muscala took over for Bucknell. A handoff to Comfort for three came up short, then Muscala scored off the glass for two. Barrett reached on a Muscala drive resulting in two made free throws.
Barrett from the same spot that had brought such success in the first half floated well long.
Muscala was dared to shoot from up top by Darrow and for the first time in four tries this season Muscala found the target.
“The strategy was to contain Muscala, if you can believe that,” Henderson said with a sardonic chuckle after the game when asked about his team’s defensive gameplan. “I think we do a nice job on the perimeter defending. We’ve been getting hurt inside a little bit, and that’s something that I thought we would be very good at because we have two junior, veteran centers that should be able to handle things a little better.”
Saunders faked a three and stepped into an open long deuce on the left baseline. No.
A sweet zero look pass by Darrow out of the post found Saunders open on the opposite side. His tying attempt went in and out.
Darrow up top was also unable to knot the scoreboard at 36. Finally Kaspar drove for two as Davis went for a poke from behind, his first of four second half field goals.
A superb drop step spin move into the lane by Hummer finishing with his right hand got that pair back.
Willman tipped in a wild Kaspar drive and Hummer on the right baseline found Connolly at point blank range for his only field goal of the game.
A posting Willman set up Cameron Ayers for a long two point jumper.
Another Kasper layup as he bumped the defending Davis out of the way took Bucknell up 44-38. On their heels, a driving Hummer dished to Saunders for three.
Princeton got the ball back with a chance to tie but Davis on the left baseline could not get a tough angle shot from slightly behind the backboard over outstretched arms and up to the rim for a shot clock violation.
A pair of Muscala free throws after pushed by Darrow in the post took the lead to 46-41. Darrow setting another hand off screen freed up Hummer unobstructed on the left wing for his fourth triple of the year and Princeton was within two again.
Here’s your sequence of the game:
Willman drives and Hummer comes over on defense for what appears to be a clean blocked shot. A whistle sounds as Hummer repeatedly says “Oh my god!” to no one in particular. Willman makes both his free throws.
A hard-cutting Hummer is fouled by Willman but misses the front end of his one and one opportunity. On the rebound Muscala is undercut by Saunders and a whistle rightfully sounds. Because Princeton is over the foul limit Muscala gets to walk 80’ to his team’s free throw line with no time coming off the clock and makes both chances.
It is now 50-44 Bucknell.
Comfort missed a pair of three point tries between a Hazel offensive board, then Kaspar was unfriendly to the Tigers’ ghost of a chance, laying the ball home on a possession kept living by a pair of offensive boards. Kaspar took his team’s lead out to 10 with 2:16 to go.
While Princeton made a spirited comeback in the final two minutes as Hazel scored seven points in a :49 stretch, they could get no closer than five. Comfort was open but short following a pair of misses at the line from Kasper on a jumper that would have cut the Bison lead to two.
Davis’ deep three ended the game how it had started, but in between the senior co-captain went scoreless. For the night Davis was 2-6 from the field, his touches limited by Ayers. Davis was consistently unable to find or create enough space to get his shot off.
Homestanding Bucknell played like Princeton’s head coach hopes his team will play in time.
“[The Bison are] very disciplined and highly efficient on both ends of the floor and we wanted to be the same way tonight,” Henderson said with a touch of frustration. “I felt like for parts of the game we were.”
Part of the game was not enough as Princeton could not stop their fourth loss in five tries.
-Princeton finished 19-51 overall (37.3%) and is shooting 38.2% from the floor for the season. The Tigers were 9-32 on three point attempts (28.1%), 16 tries in each half. 8-10 at the line in the vesper frame (80.0%) brought the team up to 9-14 (64.3%) for the evening.
-Bucknell made 22-45 in the win (48.9%), 2-6 outside (33.3%) and 16-26 on free throws (61.5%).
-Muscala was 4-5 from the floor in each half. The Bison outscored the Tigers 36-14 in the paint.
-Comfort played 28 minutes versus the Bison. He played 29 total minutes his sophomore and junior years combined.
-Hazel’s 10 points give him 12 for the season, already close to passing the 15 he scored his entire freshman campaign.
-Denton Koon only played the game's final 10 seconds, his minutes falling to Comfort.
-Princeton returns to action tomorrow afternoon for their second of three consecutive games in Lewisburg. The Tigers play Morehead State at 2:00 pm ET.