LEWISBURG — Let the madness begin. March Madness, that is.
The Bucknell University men’s basketball team is the Patriot League champion for the third time after defeating Lafayette 72-57 Friday afternoon in a tense, closer-than-expected game played before a raucous, ear-splitting, standing-room-only crowd of more than 4,000 howling fanatics at Sojka Pavilion.
As the Patriot champion, Bucknell (25-8) automatically qualifies for its fifth NCAA tournament — it was league champion in a previous conference twice — which begins next week. When, where and who the Bison play will be decided by a tournament committee and announced at 6 p.m. Sunday on CBS-TV.
The Patriot League championship win didn’t come easily.
“I was biting my knuckles throughout the game,” said longtime fan Marian Myers, of Coal Township. “I knew they were good enough to win, but the other team kept it close. Too close.”
Myers’ husband, Dan, has been a Bucknell supporter for 50 years, following the team both home and away.
“I wouldn’t miss a game,” he said, “especially a championship game, and this was a good one.”
It was good because Lafayette, a team that was not expected to even make the Patriot League championship, fought Bucknell hard until late in the second half.
As always, the Sojka Psychos, those orange-body-painted, orange-haired students who cheer their team on no matter what the score, led the chorus when the Bison finally, after 35 minutes of play, spurted to a 10-, then 15-point lead.
A sea of shouting orange-shirted fans joined the psychos as the clocked ticked down. One could feel a collective sigh of relief from the crowd when the game ended, and a crush of students charged onto the basketball court.
Barry and Sherri Lankin, of Milton, said they held their breath until the end.
“Lafayette, they wouldn’t go away,” Sherri Lankin said. “I knew that because of our defense we’d win, but I was scared most of the game.”
Standing next to the Lankins was Jordan Maxley, of Lewisburg.
“The crowd, the students, they just energized me and wouldn’t let me get down,” he said. “Every time I thought, ‘Oh, they’re gonna blow it,’ those crazy kids with their signs and grease paint would jump up and down, yell, and shatter my ear drums. I loved every minute of it, although right now, I’m a little hard of hearing.”
Senior leadership made all the difference, said Andrew Augustine, of Lewisburg,
“The game was closer than it probably should have been,” he said, “but that’s why when you have good, smart-thinking seniors. They can carry you to a win. I had great confidence in them. And, we’ll need them at their best when we play in the tournament.”
As the team received awards after the game for winning the championship, fans in the stands, hugged and shouted, “We did it. Wasn’t this exciting?”
But now the real excitement begins.
Because the Bison are going to the Big Dance.
“I don’t care if they send us west, I’m going to their next game” cried Theresa Williams, of Lewisburg, a longtime Bison fan. “This is March Madness. It’s the NCAA tournament. The Big Dance. I say bring ’em on, because whomever we play is going to have a fight on their hands.”
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LEWISBURG — Let the madness begin. March Madness, that is.
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