LEWISBURG -- Some viewed Saturday night's visit from Holy Cross as possible a trap game for the Bucknell men's basketball team. The Bison were coming off a huge win at Lehigh earlier in the week, and American, which won earlier in the day Saturday, is coming Wednesday with first place in the Patriot League on the line.
Uh, they were all about as wrong as wrong can be.
Bucknell took advantage of a strange ending to the first half, then steam-rolled its long-time rival in the second half, pulling away for a dominating 75-41 victory over the Crusaders in front of nearly 4,000 fans at Sojka Pavilion.
It was Bucknell's biggest win in the rivalry since a 25-point victory on Jan. 15, 2000, and was Holy Cross' largest Patriot League defeat in program history.
Thirteen different Bucknell players scored, led by Cameron Ayers' 13. Bryan Cohen scored a dozen points to move within three of the 1,000-point mark, while Mike Muscala had his third double-double in conference play with 11 points and 11 rebounds in just 23 minutes. The victory was the seventh in a row for the Bison and their 15th consecutive Patriot League win.
The Bison are now 15-6 overall, 5-0 in the League. Holy Cross drops to 8-11, 2-3 in conference.
"We couldn't make any shots and it sort of snowballed the other way," said Holy Cross coach Milan Brown. "It was definitely a tough night for us."
The Bison swallowed up the Crusaders on defense, holding Holy Cross to just 24.6 percent shooting. To add insult to injury, Bucknell outrebounded Holy Cross by 19, pulling down 50 boards, its most since 2009. Muscala led the way, while Brian Fitzpatrick added nine and Cohen eight.
"It was a good win. I thought our guys played well defensively," said Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen. "That was obviously not one of Holy Cross' best efforts, but sometimes that happens."
It took Bucknell more than 10 minutes to get going, but an Ayers' 3-pointer midway through the first half put the Bison up 15-5. That gave Bucknell a double-digit lead for a fifth consecutive league game to start the year. Late in the half, however, the Crusaders were within six until Fitzpatrick hit a pair of free throws. Bryson Johnson knocked down a 3 in waning moments.
Controversy ensued after Johnson's 3-pointer. When Cohen blocked a Devin Brown shot at the other end, the clock stopped momentarily. The Bison scooped up the ball and Johnson drained the triple at the other end. Brown stormed to midcourt to argue the call and was assessed a technical, but the shot stood and Bucknell took a 30-19 lead at the half.
Despite the lead, Paulsen was not happy with the way his team performed in the first 20 minutes.
"I didn't think we played very well in the first half," said Paulsen. "We talk about playing against the game, playing the best you can. But we were a little sloppy, missed some shots inside we normally don't miss around the basket."
Bucknell could have found some trouble early in the second half when Muscala picked up his third foul with 16:43 left in the game and BU up 35-22. Instead, the Bison took off. They ripped off a 16-5 run to turn the 12-point lead 51-27 bulge and they never looked back, leading by as many as 36 points in the second half.
"At the end of the first was probably a game-changer," said Fitzpatrick, who had five points in the BU spurt with Muscala on the bench. "We knew coming out of halftime they were going to come out with a lot of energy, so we wanted to make sure we matched that. The first couple minutes of the second half we blew the lead open."
In addition to the three in double figures, Fitzpatrick nearly finished with a double-double with nine points and nine boards. Ben Brackney hit a pair of 3-pointers, and Southern Columbia graduate Colin Klebon knocked down another 3 late for the Bison, his first career 3-pointer.