LEWISBURG Bryson Johnson's defensive prowess won't be confused with three-time Patriot League defensive player of the year and former Bucknell teammate Bryan Cohen anytime soon, but there he was chasing George Mason's Patrick Holloway along the baseline with under 15 seconds remaining and a 3-point lead.
Johnson watched as Holloway inbounded the ball, sprinted through the paint, looped around his screens, under his own basket, and toward the 3-point line with his hands chest high awaiting a pass. Holloway, who made three of his first four 3-point attempts, released a final hurried shot with Johnson in tow and scrambling to get a hand in his face. The shot missed and Mike Muscala was fouled on the rebound and he made two foul shots at the other end and the Bison defeated the Patriots on Tuesday night at Sojka Pavilion, 61-56, in front of 3,272 fans.
"It's tough but you got to do it, I guess," said Johnson, a senior, on chasing Holloway around the two screens to contest the potential game-tying shot.
Johnson's response left head coach Dave Paulsen shaking his head and brought laughter throughout the postgame interview room.
Few are laughing at the Bison through two games.
Bucknell's win against the Patriots (1-1) who were predicted to finish third in the respected CAA, came on the heels of Friday's 70-65 win at Purdue.
Paulsen admitted Tuesday night's victory wasn't artistic at times, but proved Bucknell can gut out victories. The Bison had only five second-half field goals and went over eight minutes without a field goal during one stretch, but made 17 of 21 free throws and added seven offensive rebounds to grind out the win.
Muscala was in the middle of the grind as three Patriots Johnny Williams, Jonathan Arledge and Marko Gujanicic fouled out attempting to guard him. All of the fouls allowed Muscala to take 10 free throws and he made eight, which allowed him to set Bucknell's all-time mark for free throws made in a career. The 6-foot-11 senior center finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds for his 26th career double-double his second in two games this season.
Johnson added 16 points and was 4 of 7 from the 3-point line. His only 3-pointer in the second half resulted in a 4-point play and gave Bucknell a 37-31 lead.
The Bison (2-0) extended the lead to 13 points with under nine minutes remaining and still led by 12 with 4:01 left before a quick 8-0 spurt by George Mason made it a game again.
Holloway hit back-to-back 3-pointers for the Patriots and a steal and layup by Bryon Allen brought Mason to within four points with 2:54 remaining.
Struggling to get many quality shots in the second half, Bucknell faced a possible shot clock violation with the ball in Cameron Ayers' hands above the 3-point line and the clock ticking to under five seconds. With limited options available, Ayers rose up above his defender and buried a 3-pointer with 2:21 remaining and restored what some may have thought as a comfortable lead.
George Mason scored the next four points, however, and made it a one-possession game with 1:17 remaining. The Patriots were within a possession for the first time since they trailed 33-31 just over two minutes into the second half.
Ayers missed on Bucknell's next possession and Joe Willman couldn't finish a putback, leaving the Patriots with 30 seconds to set up a game-tying shot. They took the clock down to under 16 seconds before calling a timeout to set up the potential game-tying play that ended with Holloway's miss.
"He's has a knack for making tough shots," said George Mason coach Paul Hewitt. "I didn't think the screens were as crisp as they could have been but he did a nice job of catching and turning for the shot."
Holloway finished with 11 points for George Mason, which defeated Virginia in its season opener.
BUCKNELL 61, GEORGE MASON 56
GEORGE MASON (1-1)
Williams 2-6 1-2 5, Arledge 2-5 0-3 4, Okoloji 0-2 2-2 2, Allen 4-8 0-0 9, Wright 6-11 2-2 16, Bennett 0-0 0-0 0, Holloway 4-8 0-1 11, Vaughns 2-7 0-0 4, Edwards 0-1 0-0 0, Gujanicic 2-7 0-2 5. Totals 22-55 5-12 56.
Willman 3-6 4-4 10, Muscala 4-8 8-10 16, Hill 0-1 1-2 1, Johnson 4-10 4-5 16, Ayers 3-9 0-0 9, Kaspar 1-1 0-2 2, Fitzpatrick 0-0 5-6 5, Frazier 1-2 0-0 2, Brackney 0-0 0-0 0, Hoffman 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 16-38 22-29 61.
Halftime-Bucknell 31-27. 3-Point Goals-George Mason 7-17 (Holloway 3-5, Wright 2-3, Allen 1-2, Gujanicic 1-2, Arledge 0-1, Okoloji 0-1, Vaughns 0-3), Bucknell 7-12 (Johnson 4-7, Ayers 3-4, Frazier 0-1). Fouled Out-Arledge, Gujanicic, Williams. Rebounds-George Mason 26 (Gujanicic 6), Bucknell 33 (Muscala 15). Assists-George Mason 9 (Allen, Edwards 2), Bucknell 13 (Frazier 3). Total Fouls-George Mason 25, Bucknell 16. A-3,272.