There were no complex explanations for American’s first loss at home all season, a setback that cost the Eagles a shot at a share of a conference title.
Any of the 1,653 at Bender Arena could tell two things and two things alone cost American in its 55-50 loss to Bucknell on Thursday.
One was yielding three consecutive 3-pointers to break open a taut game in its closing stages. That happens from time to time.
The other was allowing 26 points and 14 rebounds to the Bison’s Mike Muscala. That happens just about every time the Eagles see the Bucknell big man.
“I don’t think we could have played any harder,” American coach Jeff Jones said. “I think we were prepared and anticipated some of the things that they did. In the end, Muscala was too good, and they got the extra opportunities, and they made big shots. I really can’t fault our defense. Sometimes, the other team is just better.”
That was the sobering reality delivered as the Eagles (18-10, 9-4 Patriot) squandered a chance to move into a three-way tie with the Bison (21-8, 11-2) and Lehigh atop the Patriot League standings.
Then there was Muscala, the reigning conference player of the year who would be a viable All-America selection if he saw the Eagles every day. In four games against American in the last two seasons, Muscala is averaging 25.3 points and 11.5 rebounds.
Eagles center Tony Wroblicky gave it a solid shot against the skilled big man, collecting 11 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes.
In the end, Wroblicky was exhausted despite a feisty outing and Muscala still closed out the Eagles with a crucial block and a pair of free throws with 15.2 seconds left to extinguish any realistic chance of an American comeback.
“He just makes you work. …,” said Jones, whose team will earn the No. 3 seed in the Patriot tournament with a defeat of Lafayette on Saturday. “Muscala just wore us down. He was clearly the difference in the game.”
And still, the Eagles weren’t finished until the closing stages. After building an early 10-point lead, American found itself up 26-24 at the break. For a stretch of 12 minutes in the second half, the game never strayed beyond a two-point lead for either team.
Then came one three. And another. And another. Offensive rebounds helped Bucknell, but so did the relief of finally enjoying a cushion.
“When they hit shots like that, it just makes us change our defensive strategy,” guard Troy Brewer said.View Entire Story
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Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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