LEWISBURG Mike Muscala received an entry pass from the perimeter with his back to the basket and a post defender leaning on his 6-foot-11 frame. The Bison senior center surveyed the landscape and watched as Navy's Kevin Alter turned to the post, and tried to double team the league's leading scorer.
Alter plays with the heart of the lion, but at 5-foot-7 he played the role of a baby gazelle on Saturday night as Muscala turned aggressively through the double team and shot over the post defender in a sign of Bucknell's dominance during its 69-54 victory over the last-place Midshipmen in front of 3,716 fans at Sojka Pavilion.
Muscala finished with 11 points and matched a career high with 19 rebounds for his 16th double-double of the season which leads all Division-I players. Four of his rebounds were offensive, but few resulted from Bryson Johnson misses.
The senior made 6 of 10 3-pointers and finished with a season-high and game-high 20 points. His six 3-pointers were also a season high and his most since he hit nine against West Alabama early in the 2011 season.
"I know when he hits a couple he's going to make that however many more," said Muscala, who has rebounded for Johnson during many shooting drills over the past four seasons together. "That was great to see and he's the best shooter I've ever played with in my life."
Johnson's first 3-pointer against a Navy zone allowed him to break Bucknell's all-time 3-point record. Johnson and Kevin Bettencourt were tied with 294 careers 3s entering last night but it only took the Bucknell senior 58 seconds to overtake the record and give Bucknell a lead it would never relinquish.
"We are a very young basketball team and we think guarding a guy is two feet from him with our hands up," said Ed DeChellis who is in his second season at Navy after 8 seasons at Penn State. "Our attention to detail is very lacking, especially when you got all the young players playing. They think that's guarding, but after the third and fourth three you need to figure out that you need to get a little closer."
Bucknell (19-4) finished the first half of Patriot League play 6-1 and holds a game lead over Lehigh for first place. The Mountain Hawks (15-5, 5-1) travel to Army today. Lehigh and Bucknell are at least two games clear of the remaining six league teams in the loss column.
The Midshipmen, who start two freshmen and two sophomores and who have lost four consecutive games, made enough shots to trail by only 12 at the half but Bucknell's lead grew to 20 points with 14:33 remaining in the game on the first of two consecutive Joe Willman made field goals.
Muscala, who had an assist on the first of those Willman buckets, added another one three minutes later when three Midshipmen collapsed on him but could only watch as he found a wide-open Ben Brackney on the baseline for one of his two baskets.
Navy, which averaged 54.5 points per game during its previous 10 games before arriving in Lewisburg, scored 54 last night against the Patriot League's top scoring defense.
The league's lowest scoring team shot 32 percent and collected only six offensive rebounds.
Brandon Venturni and Worth Smith each scored 11 points for the Midshipmen. They shot a combined 9 of 22, but the rest of the team was 10 of 38.
"We have a really hard time making open shots," DeChellis said.
The Bison will take a week off before starting the second half of league play next Saturday at Army.
"We are at a good spot at the turn and I think the bye week comes at an opportune time for us to kind of catch our breath and get our legs back a little bit and add a few refinements to our game," Paulsen said.
Kelly 0-3 0-0 0, Smith 4-12 2-2 11, Dunbar 3-11 2-2 8, Wynn 0-2 0-0 0, Venturini 5-10 0-0 11, Wyatt 2-5 0-0 5, Loupos 1-3 0-0 2, Alter 3-8 6-7 15, Spadaford 0-2 0-0 0, Jackson 1-1 0-0 2, Guglielmo 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 19-60 10-11 54.
Willman 3-6 0-0 6, Muscala 3-4 5-6 11, Hill 0-3 2-2 2, Johnson 7-11 0-0 20, Ayers 3-6 1-1 8, Singleton 0-0 0-0 0, Kaspar 1-4 0-0 2, Fitzpatrick 2-2 0-0 4, Hass 1-2 4-4 6, Starkey 1-3 2-3 4, Frazier 0-5 2-3 2, Brackney 2-2 0-0 4, Hoffman 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-49 16-19 69.
Halftime-Bucknell 34-22. 3-Point Goals-Navy 6-15 (Alter 3-7, Smith 1-2, Venturini 1-2, Wyatt 1-3, Spadaford 0-1), Bucknell 7-19 (Johnson 6-10, Ayers 1-3, Hill 0-1, Kaspar 0-1, Frazier 0-4). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-Navy 20 (Smith 6), Bucknell 47 (Muscala 19). Assists-Navy 8 (Dunbar 5), Bucknell 16 (Johnson, Muscala 3). Total Fouls-Navy 19, Bucknell 18. A-3,716.