DALLAS (AP)—Kansas last year, Arkansas this year. The Bucknell Bison sure are taking down some historic programs on their way to making a name for themselves.
The Patriot League champions moved to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the second straight year Friday, this time taking the unusual route of making more 3-pointers than 2s in a 59-55 victory over the Razorbacks.
Charles Lee and Kevin Bettencourt combined for 42 points and nine of Bucknell’s season-high 11 3s, many of them fired when the shot clock was nearly running out. The Bison (27-6) made only six shots inside the arc, going more than 15 minutes between them at one point.
“Wow,” Lee said, marveling at the bizarre box score. “We were just feeling it today.”
Bucknell usually doesn’t play that way. Then again, in their academic-oriented conference, the Bison usually don’t face teams as big and quick as Arkansas (22-10).
“Hey, we held them to 37 percent shooting—that’s great defense,” Razorbacks coach Stan Heath said. “You can say we didn’t defend the 3, but about four were with 1 second, 2 seconds, left on the shot clock, guys on them and they get it off, and it goes in.”
Bucknell led for most of the game, but began fizzling after going up by 10 midway through the second half. Lee hit the Bison’s final 3 with 3:42 left and they had to sweat it out from there.
The Razorbacks tied it at 55 on a pair of free throws with 1:15 left. Although Lee and Bettencourt missed three straight free throws with about a half-minute left, Arkansas failed to capitalize.
Ronnie Brewer, the SEC’s leading scorer and son of the Hogs’ 1978 tournament star Ron Brewer, missed a tying jumper with about 15 seconds left. The rebound caromed off several bodies, then made its way to the shortest player on either team, 6-foot Abe Badmus of Bucknell. He was fouled with 7.9 seconds remaining.
Badmus, the starting point guard, was in his 34th minute but hadn’t taken a shot—“Every time I got in the lane, the trees were all over me,” he said.
He made both free throws, even with the Razorbacks breaking his rhythm by calling timeout after the first one.
“I wasn’t really thinking about” the circumstances, he said. “I just let my muscle memory take over.”
Bucknell’s postgame celebration was more relief than the joy seen following its stunning upset over Kansas last March.
At least this time players got to hear their own band play the school’s fight song. Last year’s tournament berth was such a surprise that the band already had made other plans for spring break. All 28 made this trip, with one donning an oversized, orange foam cowboy hat.
The saga of the bandless team helped make Bucknell a charming story last year. This year’s run has more of a sorrowful twist: The 2-month-old daughter of assistant coach Bryan Goodman died Monday from complications of extreme prematurity and an 11-year-old ballboy died in a fire three weeks ago. Players carried the names or initials of the children on tape or sweatbands worn around their ankles. Goodman flew in late Thursday and was with the team on the bench.
After becoming the first Patriot League team to win an NCAA game last year, the Bison will try Sunday to become the first to win in the second round. They’ll play top-seeded Memphis, meaning a chance to notch another big name on their hit list.
This win technically was an upset because Bucknell was seeded ninth in the Oakland Regional. The Razorbacks were eighth in their first tournament trip since 2001.
“We came here for a two-game tournament,” Bettencourt said. “That’s the mind-set we took. I don’t think it’s too big of an upset.”
Lee, the Patriot League player of the year, scored 24 points and was 4-of-7 on 3-pointers. Bettencourt was 5-of-10 and had 18 points, the other three coming from the line after he was fouled attempting a 3.
Arkansas was held to its fewest points of the season and in its last 41 NCAA tournament games, dating to 1984. The Razorbacks had won 19 straight games in Dallas, home to their largest alumni base, and now have a four-game NCAA losing streak, the longest in program history.
“There wasn’t much we could really do,” said Jonathon Modica, who led Arkansas with 19 points.
The Razorbacks hurt themselves by going 2-of-12 on 3s and enduring a 5-of-13 stretch at the foul line when the game got close in the second half.