It’s Bucknell, it’s supposed to be easy.
“That’s what people think, but we actually take every team the same,” said Ryan Arcidiacono, after the close 72-65 win over Bucknell.
After dismantling Maryland Eastern Shore 81-44, the Wildcats entered tonight’s game with some serious momentum. They put the Lehigh game behind them and looked like they were heading in the right direction this early in the season. The game started off much like how the last one did. Villanova forced a quick turnover after tip-off. On the other end, Daniel Ochefu set a nice pick that resulted in a Ryan Arcidiacono three point basket to serve as the first few points of the game. Villanova quickly got into a nice 15-4 run. The streak was topped off with a beautiful feed from Dylan Ennis to Ochefu for an and-one monster dunk. The crowd surged in excitement as their cheers filled the Pavilion during the quick time out. He sank the free throw attempt after the brief intermission. The Wildcats pushed their lead into the double digits, taking steady control of the game. Every single player that stepped out onto the floor for Villanova got involved one way or another, combining for a nice team effort to set the pace for the first half.
Villanova’s 36.7% shooting was covered up by another great defensive effort. They forced 13 of Bucknell’s 21 turnovers in the first half alone. The Wildcats were also shaky from beyond the arc. Outside of Arcidiacono’s three to start the game, Villanova couldn’t sink another one from long range in the first half. The Wildcats combined for an 8.3 three-point shooting percentage. 11 of their 12 attempts just refused to go in. Bucknell had a little surge just before halftime. The Bison received a little boost from back-to-back three pointers by Chris Hass and J.C. Show to put six quick points on the board before the break. The Wildcats had a 33-26 lead going into halftime. While most people didn’t pay attention to the pair of three pointers then, it was actually a sign of worse things to come.
Both teams started off with trading baskets to open the second half. Suddenly, the shots stopped falling for Villanova, but the same couldn’t be said for Bucknell. The Bison launched a 9-0 run to quickly evaporate the Wildcats’ lead. Darrun Hilliard made a shot from beyond the arc to end the run and retain the lead for a little while longer. Bucknell was right on their heels for the rest of the way. They didn’t let up, matching whatever the Wildcats did. With 5:26 left on the clock, a layup by Bucknell’s Nana Foulland tied the game up for the second time. Much like the first time, the Wildcats didn’t give up the lead. However, exactly like the first time, Bucknell didn’t stop trying. After a couple of back-and-forth series and a few ties, the Bison finally broke through. Hass was fouled from behind the three point line, resulting in three free throw attempts. Calmly, he proceeded to sink all three attempts with ease.
Bucknell had their first ever lead in the game, with 3:33 remaining. On the following possession, Ochefu would grab the offensive board and put it back in to give Villanova a 63-62 lead. Shortly after, Chris Hass nailed a three pointer over the outstretched hand of Ochefu. The Pavilion immediately quieted down in awe, as Bucknell took a two point lead with less than two minutes remaining in the game. Hass would finish the game shooting 9-for-12.
“We knew they were going to Hass,” said Jay Wright. “We just couldn’t stop him.” A pair of Arcidiacono free throws quickly tied the game at 65.
On the following possession, Stephen Brown attacked the basket, driving in and putting up the shot. He would be denied by Ochefu. D.J. MacLeay grabbed the offensive rebound and put it back up, only to have Ochefu swat it out of the air. Once again, MacLeay hauled the ball in. He danced around with the ball, in an attempt to fake out the defense or draw a foul. He finally shot the ball, but this time it wouldn’t be stopped by Ochefu. The ball teetered around the edges of the rim as it toyed with everyone’s emotions. The crowd let out an exuberant roar as the ball didn’t fall through the rim, but into the arms of Josh Hart instead.
Ochefu was fouled, and made only one of his two attempts in his trip to the line. Now holding onto a one point lead, the Wildcats had to do everything to preserve it. They kept their eye on Hass, who shot his way to a 32 point performance. Hilliard stepped into the junior guard, harassing him with solid pressure. Eventually, he choked it up and the Wildcats took over. A pair of Dylan Ennis free throws gave Villanova a little more breathing room, as they now had a three point lead. All they had to do now was protect the perimeter and not give up the tying shot that could take the game into overtime. Bucknell looked to their hero, but once again Hilliard was one step ahead. He snatched the ball out of the air and took it all the way to the other end for a resounding dunk that put away the game.
“Those two blocks by Daniel and Darrun’s steal were the biggest plays of the game,” said Wright.
A pair of free throws for Villanova provided the last few points of the game. The final score was 72-65.
“It was a heartbreaking loss. We were up 65-63 and we just couldn’t close it out,” said Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen. “We don’t believe in moral victories. When you have a chance to win, you have to go out and get that win.”
Dylan Ennis led the Wildcats in scoring. He provided 16 points, six rebounds, and two assists. Ochefu had another solid performance inside, finishing with a double-double. The junior center had 14 points and 10 rebounds, as well as three blocks. Ryan Arcidiacono chipped in 15 points and three assists.