All we do is win: Men’s basketball advances to March Madness

Elise Covert, Sports Co-Editor

More than 4,200 Bison fans packed the stands at Sojka Pavilion on March 8 for the Patriot League Championship game against Lehigh. It was the sixth-largest crowd in Sojka’s history, filled with handmade signs and raucous chants taunting the Lehigh fans, who filled a meager portion of the stands. Our elated student section, decked in orange, stormed the court as the buzzer sounded, signaling the men’s basketball team’s first Patriot League Championship in four years. After a back-and-forth first half, the Orange and Blue rode a dominant second half to smother Lehigh and clinch the 81-65 tournament win.

After losing to the Mountain Hawks twice during the regular season, the Bison came into the championship game looking for vengeance. The teams traded the lead throughout the first half, but Avi Toomer ’20 hit a last-second 3-pointer to give the the Orange and Blue a 35-34 advantage at halftime. In the first half alone, there were three ties and nine lead changes, as the teams seemed to be well-matched and the game was shaping up to be one that would go down to the wire.

Whatever head coach Nathan Davis said in the locker room during the break must have restored the Bison’s sense of urgency, as they opened the second half with a 12-0 run that crushed any momentum Lehigh had built and had the rowdy crowd at Sojka on their feet. The Orange and Blue extended their lead to a maximum of 18 during the second half, outscoring Lehigh 46-31 in the second 20 minutes.

“Defense was a huge key for us, especially since we knew Lehigh likes to punch first. Coming out in the second half and getting stops on defense let us get the punch in first,” Stephen Brown ’18 said.

Zach Thomas ’18, named tournament MVP, led the way with 17 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists. He scored 53 points in the three playoff games combined, hitting his landmark 1000th point in the second half of the championship game.

Three other players for the Bison scored in the double-digits: Kimbal Mackenzie ’19, Nana Foulland ’18, and Brown. Thomas, Foulland, and Mackenzie were named to the All-Tournament Team.

The players’ reactions left no doubt about the significance of the win or the pride and happiness they felt upon achieving their season-long goal of being named champions.

“As a team we are so excited to have accomplished our goal this season, but we want more and we will continue to work,” Foulland said.

“All the hard work we put in in the offseason and the experience we had last season losing in the quarterfinals gave us the motivation to get to this point. It’s an awesome feeling,” Brown said.

With the win, the Bison improve their record to 26-8 and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. It is the seventh time in school history that the Orange and Blue will go to the Big Dance, looking to extend their reputation as bracket-busters. Brackets will be established on Sunday, March 12, when the Orange and Blue will find out which opponent awaits them in the first round. They will enter the tournament on a six-game winning streak.

“This is what we’ve been working for this whole season,” Toomer said. “We’re just trying to take it a game at a time going forward.”

Game Stats

• Bison led for 29:55

• 47.2 percent FG shooting

• 33.3 percent 3-point shooting

• 5-7 free throw shooting

• Blocks: Lehigh 2, Bison 6

• Bench points: Lehigh 3, Bison 14

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