The Butler Bulldogs held off the Bucknell Bison 68-56 to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Butler, the No. 6 seed in the East bracket, gave up a seven-point halftime lead to No. 11 seeded Bucknell, who is all but familiar with first round upsets.
In 2005, Bucknell beat Kansas 64-63 in the first round, being the first team from the Patriot League to win an NCAA tournament game. The Bison’s won the Patriot League championship this season, led by center Mike Muscala.
The Bulldogs took advantage of poor shooting from Bucknell in the first half. Bucknell went 7-for-27 shooting out of the gate, giving Butler a sizable lead going into the second half. Senior Andrew Smith led the Bulldogs with a double-double, finishing with 16 points and 15 rebounds.
Rotnei Clarke added 17 points for Butler in the win, and was pivotal in the second half to stop Bucknell’s run. The Bulldogs had an 11-point lead before Bucknell went on a 19-2 run for a 37-31 lead over Butler.
The momentum had shifted, but the Bulldogs weren’t ready to give in, and went on a run of their own to send Bucknell home. Andrew Smith was the key to everything, as he was able to hold Bucknell’s leading scorer Mike Muscala to just nine points on 4-of-17 shooting.
Muscala averaged 19-points a game for Bucknell on the season, but wasn’t able to get in the groove with Smith in the paint. Neither team shot well from the floor, making Smith’s play under the basket that much more important.
Joe Willman led all scorers with 20 points in the loss, as Bucknell appeared in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011. Bucknell’s last win in the Big Dance came in 2006 over Arkansas as a No. 9 seed before losing to Memphis in the second round.
Butler will face-off with the winner of Marquette and Davidson in a second round match-up on Saturday. The Bulldogs won at Marquette on Nov. 19 in a 72-71 thriller. A rematch looks to be in the works, unless Davidson can upset the No. 3 seed in the East.
The Bulldogs missed the 2012 tournament, but everyone remembers their back-to-back runs to the National Championship in 2010 and 2011. The Bulldogs lost in both finals, a close one to Duke in 2010 followed by a loss to Connecticut in 2011. Butler held off Bucknell 68-56 Wednesday to get the first one out of the way, but the Bulldogs must improve on their poor shooting if they hope to advance out of the second round.