DALLAS (AP) – The Bucknell Bison are no longer merely a charming story. They’re turning into a first-round force.
Charles Lee and Kevin Bettencourt led an offense that lived on the 3-point shot, carrying the Patriot League champions past Arkansas 59-55 Friday and into the second round of the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
Bucknell (27-4) led nearly the entire game, but had to sweat it out in the final minutes. Its postgame celebration was more relief than the joy Bucknell players felt following their stunning upset over Kansas last March.
At least this time they got to hear their own band play the school’s fight song. Last year’s tournament bid caught their band by surprise and the students were on spring break. All 28 made this trip, with one donning an oversized, orange foam cowboy hat.
Technically, Bucknell pulled off another upset because it was the ninth seed in the Oakland Regional. The Razorbacks (22-10) were seeded eighth in their first tournament trip since 2001, when Nolan Richardson was still in charge.
After becoming the first school from their academic-oriented league 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 either top-seeded Memphis or 16th-seeded Oral Roberts.
Bucknell made a season-high 11 3-pointers and only six shots inside the arc. The Bison went about 15 minutes between 2-pointers and had only two in the second half. Their final 3 came with 3:42 left, and Arkansas made a game of it from there.
The Razorbacks closed what had been a 10-point deficit, tying it at 55 on a pair of free throws by Jonathon Modica, who was allowed to replace an injured Steven Hill. Then Bucknell broke a full-court press and got an easy layup by Lee.
Chris Ferguson missed an open 3 that would’ve put Arkansas ahead, but the Bison missed a chance to expand the lead when Lee missed the front end of a 1-and-1, then Bettencourt missed a pair of foul shots.
Ronnie Brewer, son of 1978 Arkansas tournament star Ron Brewer, missed a jumper with about 12 seconds left that would’ve tied it. After a scrum for the rebound, tiny Abe Badmus ended up getting fouled and went to the line with 7.9 seconds left. Shooting for the first time all game, he made both free throws to ice the win.
Lee, the Patriot League player of the year, scored 24 points and was 4-of-7 on 3-pointers. Bettencourt was 5-of-10 behind the line for 18 points.
Center Chris McNaugton, the star of last year’s victory over the Jayhawks, was limited to six points by Arkansas’ strong inside defense and his team’s decision to keep the ball on the perimeter. He also picked up his fourth foul with 5:28 left.
Arkansas was held to its lowest point total of the season and its lowest in 41 NCAA tournament games, dating to 1984. The Razorbacks had won 19 straight games in Dallas, home to their largest alumni base, a roll that began in their days as a Southwest Conference powerhouse.
Modica led Arkansas with 19 points and Brewer scored 14, below his SEC-leading average of 18.5.
Although the Razorbacks were far more athletic, which especially showed in their 14-2 advantage on fast-break points, they struggled everywhere else. They were 2-of-12 on 3s and went through a 5-of-13 stretch at the foul line when things were tightening up in the second half.
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