March 10, 2006
LEWISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Put the nation's elite on alert. Bucknell has another chance to spoil some top team's NCAA tournament.
One year after shaking up the brackets, the Bison proved they're no one-season wonder as Kevin Bettencourt scored 23 points to help Bucknell cap a perfect Patriot League season with a 74-59 win over Holy Cross in the championship game Friday night.
Bucknell (26-4) went undefeated in Patriot League play, with 14 regular-season wins and three more in the conference tournament to earn its second straight NCAA tournament berth and fourth overall.
They won't be sneaking up on anyone in this year's tourney, though.
The team from a small private school has been making a habit of beating some of the best known teams in college basketball - none bigger than a first-round win over third-seeded Kansas in last season's NCAA tournament that catapulted the Bison into the national spotlight.
Now, they get another chance and it might be hard for a lot of teams to stop Patriot League player of the year Charles Lee, Chris McNaughton and Bettencourt when they're on their game. The trio carried the Bison again, with Lee and Bettencourt connecting from 3-point range, and McNaughton powering his way inside for easy baskets.
Trying for its fourth NCAA tournament berth this decade, Holy Cross (20-12) instead came up short to the Bison in the title game for the second straight season. Kevin Hamilton scored 20 points and Keith Simmons added 19 for the Crusaders, who hope to get an NIT bid for the second season in a row.
With a frenzied, orange-clad crowd rocking the Sojka Pavilion, McNaughton slipped behind the defense for a couple of baskets early in the second half that stretched what had been a tight game to a nine-point lead for Bucknell.
Then the Bison really got rolling. Bettencourt hit a 3, and reserve Donald Brown scored five straight points on a dunk and a three-point play that made it 57-44. Lee finished with 16 points, and Brown and McNaughton each had 14.
The Crusaders got sloppy, started turning the ball over and couldn't hit a shot. They went scoreless for a 6:09 stretch midway through the second half that allowed the Bison to keep a double-digit lead.
Bettencourt delivered the decisive blow late in the game when he was fouled on a 3-pointer from the right side and sank the free throw for a 15-point lead. Bettencourt added a fastbreak layup that made it 72-57 with about 1:30 left and the crowd started chanting "Undefeated!"
Bettencourt went 6-for-10 from 3-point range, Lee was 3-for-5 and the Bison made 10 of 18 overall on 3s. Holy Cross committed 19 turnovers that led to 20 Bucknell points.
Yes, that "Round of 32" banner proudly displayed on the gym's wall won't have anyone placing Bucknell with the Duke's and North Carolina's among college basketball's royalty, but not many teams from mid-major conferences have received as much national attention the last two seasons.
Bucknell got their first, albeit short-lived, national ranking this season, and beat No. 17 Syracuse in November. They've played on national television and set a home attendance record earlier this season against Villanvoa, that was threatened to be broken on Friday.