Win over Arkansas helped Bucknell build a perennial winner

By: Matt Jones
Published: Saturday, November 11, 2017
Arkansas guard Jonathon Modica, left, knocks the ball away form Bucknell forward Donald Brown (4) in the first half of their game in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Dallas, Friday, March 17 2006. (AP Photo/ Donna McWilliam)
Arkansas guard Jonathon Modica, left, knocks the ball away form Bucknell forward Donald Brown (4) in the first half of their game in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Dallas, Friday, March 17 2006. (AP Photo/ Donna McWilliam)

— To give an idea of how long it has been since Arkansas last played Bucknell, the teams’ freshmen this season were first graders.

While Sunday's 5 p.m. game isn’t likely to cause any flashbacks for the players, the Razorbacks’ 59-55 loss to the Bison in the first round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament at American Airlines Center in Dallas is pertinent to the caliber of team Bucknell will bring to Walton Arena.

Bucknell’s win was part of first-round upsets in consecutive years - the Bison beat Kansas 64-63 in 2005 - that put the 3,700-enrollment Lewisburg, Penn., private school on the college basketball map. Bucknell had been to only two NCAA Tournaments prior to 2005, but has been to five in past 13 seasons.

“It was a period for our program where we started to get good and were competing to get in the NCAA Tournament, had a lot of good players,” said Nathan Davis, the third-year Bucknell coach who was an assistant there from 2003-08. “We beat Kansas the year before and the next year we got in the top 25…and then to beat Arkansas, which is another storied program, in Dallas, it just really showed what our program was capable of.

“When you win in the NCAA Tournament it gets you on the national stage, so from that standpoint, I thought it was a really big deal.”

Those wins were part of an era in which Bucknell built a new basketball arena - 4,000-seat Sojka Pavilion - and helped launch the most successful program in the Patriot League for more than a decade. In addition to five conference tournament championships, the Bison have won or shared eight regular-season championships since 2005, including the last three.

Bucknell also received a boost when the Patriot League allowed members to offer full athletic scholarships for the first time. Previously it had been one of two conferences - the Ivy League was the other - that did not permit athletic scholarships.

“You combine that with the success in the NCAA Tournament, and that opens the door for a lot of players,” Davis said.

The Bison made the NCAA Tournament last season as a No. 13 seed. Bucknell trimmed a 15-point deficit to three with less than nine minutes remaining, but lost to West Virginia 86-80 during a first-round loss in Buffalo, N.Y.

Bucknell returns its nine leading scorers from last season’s team, including a pair of senior post players, Nana Foulland and Zach Thomas, that combined to average 31.9 points and 14.8 rebounds last season.

Foulland (6-10, 235 pounds) ranked 28th nationally with 72 blocked shots last season and Thomas (6-7, 228) recorded career-highs of 31 points and 16 rebounds in the Bison’s 79-78 loss at Monmouth on Friday.

Bucknell (0-1) overcame a 13-point deficit to take the lead on a Thomas basket with 30 seconds left, but Monmouth made two free throws with five seconds remaining to regain the lead.

“Zach Thomas is a kid that can go inside and outside,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “It’s a team that really plays efficient basketball and can get up and down the floor and (Foulland is) a versatile big guy who really is a great rebounder and shot blocker. They’re picked to win their league and he’s picked to be the player of the year in their league.”

The Razorbacks (1-0) are coming off a 95-56 win over Samford on Friday. Arkansas still is without three players for various reasons and might only rotate nine against the Bison’s 11-man rotation.

Anderson said he is not worried about the short bench despite a quick turnaround. No player logged more than 30 minutes of playing time in the season opener.

“I thought the minutes were pretty balanced for the most part,” Anderson said. “I thought the guys who played the most minutes got a lot of breaks because our bench play was really good.

“It’s going to be a challenge for us, but I’m sure our guys are looking forward to it. If you put this kind of schedule together, your guys have got to rise to the challenge.”

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