LEWISBURG - Mike Muscala warned his Twitter followers on Saturday night that he was in charge of the pregame dance for Sunday's Senior Day contest against Holy Cross. Those who heeded the warning missed quite a show that left coach Dave Paulsen shaking his head with a smile as the team returned to the bench prior to player introductions.
While Muscala's dance moves may not be up to March Madness standards, his game continued to be and he led Bucknell to a mostly-convincing 74-57 win over the Crusaders in front of a Sojka Pavilion crowd of 3,497.
Muscala finished with 25 points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes. He has scored 25 or more points in three out of his last four games.
"He came out with a purpose, no question about that," Holy Cross coach Milan Brown said. "Once he made a couple of post moves and the ball started going through the basket, you could tell he had a rhythm. He is a very tough player. Any time you have a guy that has a chance to have the commissioner of the NBA call his name out, you know he is going to be a good player."
Bucknell appears to be in a good position to wrap up another Patriot League regular-season title. Combined with Lafayette's win over Lehigh on Sunday, Bucknell (23-5, 10-2 Patriot League) holds a two-game lead in the league standings over the Leopards and Mountain Hawks with two games to play. A Bucknell win over American on Wednesday will give the Bison the regular-season title and the No. 1 seed and homecourt advantage throughout the league tournament.
Bucknell's home floor was overwhelmed with emotion on Senior Day yesterday and the Bison didn't allow it to affect them negatively as they gained control of the contest by scoring 18 of the game's first 26 points.
The Bison pushed their lead to 15 points on a Cameron Ayers' 3-pointer and again later on a Brian Fitzpatrick basket, but the Crusaders (11-16, 3-9) closed the half on a 10-2 run and trailed by just seven (31-24) at the break.
"I was disappointed," Paulsen said. "I think they had 14 points at the under four-minute media timeout and then they scored 10 points in the last four minutes. That was very disconcerting for me."
The Holy Cross success didn't cross over into the second half as Muscala scored the first five points of the half, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key that forced a Crusaders' timeout.
Bucknell's lead grew to as many as 21 points in the second half and it became just the fourth team in league history to post three consecutive 10-win seasons in league play.
Dave Dudzinski, who had 26 points and played 35 points against the Bison in Worcester, Mass., made just one field goal and had four points in 22 minutes yesterday. He was limited to nine minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls.
When Dudzinski was on the court, Bucknell's guards provided help defense to Muscala in the post and as a result Dudzinski attempted only five shots.
Justin Burrell, a 5-foot-9 point guard, led the Crusaders with 16 points. The sophomore routinely beat Bucknell defenders on top of the key and navigated the Bucknell frontcourt near the rim with an array of shots.
Joe Willman, one of four seniors recognized before Sunday's game, added 14 points to Muscala's 25. They combined for 39 points on 18 of 28 shooting. The duo also combined for 16 rebounds - six offensive.
Another senior - Southern Columbia graduate Colin Klebon - received tremendous support from the student section as Bucknell's lead grew and the time began to dwindle. With under four minutes remaining and the students chanting Klebon's name, Paulsen turned down the bench and signaled him to the scorer's table. He missed his first two shots before receiving a Bryson Johnson pass and scoring a basket. The basket gave him 101 career points.
"I appreciate all the support from my teammates, coaches and the fans," Klebon said. "I was more nervous probably than I was in any other basketball situation."
With 2:29 left, Klebon, Muscala, Johnson and Willman exited together with Ayers, a junior, to a rousing ovation.
"We know with it being Senior Day that they would probably have a little extra gas in the tank today and it showed," Brown said.
Yesterday's victory gave this senior class 87 wins in their four-year careers. The total matched the program record held by the Class of 2007.