WEST POINT, N.Y. The Army men’s basketball team withstood a furious Bucknell comeback, holding on to claim a 54-51 victory at Christl Arena in the regular-season finale for both teams. The Black Knights improved to 13-15 overall and tied their best-ever Patriot League finish at 6-8. Army will be the fifth seed in the Patriot League Tournament and travel to fourth-seeded Lehigh on Wednesday, March 5.
Army led 54-44 after sophomore Cleveland Richard knocked down both ends of a one-and-one with 2:25 left, but Holy Cross scored the final seven points of the game. G.W. Boon’s three-pointer with 26.8 seconds left closed the gap to three at 54-51. After a timeout by each team, Army tried to throw a long pass to break the Bison’s pressure, but Bucknell intercepted. John Griffin’s game-tying three-point attempt rimmed out, but Darren Mastropaolo was able to snag the offensive rebound. He attempted to kick it back to Griffin for another three, but instead the ball found the waiting arms of Army’s Marcus Nelson. Nelson missed the front end of a one-and-one with 10 seconds left on the clock. The Bison controlled the rebound, and Patrick Behan’s three at the buzzer was off the mark, securing Army’s second victory versus Bucknell this season.
The win marks the first time Army has defeated Bucknell (11-18, 6-8 Patriot League) twice in the same season. The Black Knights had lost 15 straight to the Bison before a 16-point win at Sojka Pavilion on Feb. 3.
Senior G Jarell Brown celebrated his final regular-season appearance at Christl Arena with a game-high 13 points. Brown hit his first four shots, including three from behind the arc, to account for 11 of Army’s first 18 points. Brown also tied for the team lead with six rebounds, handed out a game-high four assists and made two steals in 36 minutes. Richard was the only other Black Knight player to reach double figures with 11 points. He also had four rebounds, two assists and two steals. It was his career-best third straight double-digit scoring game.
Sophomore G Josh Miller added eight points, five rebounds and three assists. His three steals moved him into third place on the Army single-season ledger with 49. Nelson finished the game with seven points, six rebounds, an assist and a steal.
Mastropaolo led the Bison with 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting. Stephen Tyree scored 10 points and pulled down a team-high six rebounds.
Army built an 11-point lead at the break by shooting 54.2 percent (13 of 24), including 4 of 6 from three-point range. The Bison hit 45.8 percent of their shots before halftime, but were just 3 of 11 from long distance. Both teams struggled on the offensive end in the second half. The Black Knights were 7 of 21 from the floor, including 0 for 7 from deep, while Bucknell hit just 9 of 29 second-half field goal attempts and were 1 for 9 from three-point range.
The Black Knights outrebounded Bucknell, 32-30, and despite being on the short end of a 20-18 turnover margin, outscored the Bison 20-10 in the points off turnovers category. Army also held a decisive 12-0 advantage in fast break points.
Army led from tip to buzzer, jumping out to a 5-0 lead. After a three-pointer by Bucknell, Army scored the next seven points, including Brown’s second three-pointer. The Black Knights took their first double-digit lead of the game at 15-5 with 14:19 left Brown’s third triple and extended the lead to 20-9 after a putback by senior Corban Bates. The Bison used a 7-1 run to close within five, but the Black Knights scored seven straight points, including five by Richard to take their largest lead at 28-16. Bucknell got within seven, but the Black Knights pushed their lead back to 12 on a steal and layup by sophomore G Tyrell Thompson. Army led by 11 at the break, its largest halftime lead of the season.
Neither team scored for the first 3:52 of the second half. Freshman G Rickey Royal broke the drought with a free throw to put Army ahead, 38-26, but the Bison scored seven of the next nine to trim the deficit to seven with 13 minutes left. The Black Knights went on an 8-3 run to get the lead back to 48-36 and led by at least seven until the Bison’s rally in the final three minutes.
Army, Lafayette and Bucknell all finished tied for fifth with 6-8 conference marks, but the Black Knights win the tiebreaker by virtue of their 3-1 record against the Leopards and Bison. Lafayette is the sixth seed after going 2-2 against the other two teams, while Bucknell is the seventh seed with a 1-3 record in the tiebreaker. Army had a chance to claim its highest spot ever in the Patriot League standings and host a quarterfinal game as the fourth-seed, but Colgate’s win versus Navy on Saturday, pushed the Black Knights to the fifth spot.
The Black Knights will travel to Stabler Arena on Wednesday to face Lehigh in the quarterfinals for the second straight season. The Mountain Hawks won both the regular-season meetings with Army, 57-52 at West Point on Jan. 20 and 58-53 in Bethlehem on Feb. 16. The Black Knights won at Lehigh in the quarterfinals last season on a last-second layup by Josh Miller.
Game Notes: Army won its final two regular-season Patriot League games for the first time ... The Black Knights 6-8 record matches the 2001-02 squad for the best finish since joining the league in 1990-91 ... Army has won at least 13 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1977-78 and 1978-79 ... The Black Knights are now 9-4 in games decided by five points or less, including 4-2 in Patriot League play ... Army is now 12-21 in the Jim Crews Era when committing at least 20 turnovers ... Army is 7-4 when scoring at least 20 points off opponent turnovers ... Army extended its school record for steals in a season to 239 ... The only other time Army did not trail in a game was at NJIT ... Jarell Brown is tied for sixth on Army’s career steals ledger with 92 ... The Black Knights are 4-2 when Cleveland Richard scores at least 10 points ... Army is 6-2 when Marcus Nelson scores at least six markers ... The Black Knights improved to 8-3 when leading at the half ... American claimed the league title with its win versus Lafayette and Navy’s loss at Colgate ... The Eagles will host eighth-seeded Holy Cross ... The Mids are the second seed and will host Bucknell ... The Raiders claimed the third spot and will host Lafayette.