Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos has compared Bucknell center Mike Muscala to one of his favorite former NBA players for his hometown Boston Celtics. Muscala is not the second coming of Kevin McHale, but against the Greyhounds on Friday night, the 6-11 senior looked the part of a modern-day mid-major replica.
Muscala attracted four NBA scouts to Reitz Arena, as well as plenty of attention from Loyola's big men. He seemed unaffected by both, scoring a game-high 28 points to lead the Bison to a surprisingly easy 66-46 victory. Junior guard Dylon Cormier (Cardinal Gibbons) was the only Loyola player to score in double figures for the Greyhounds, finishing with 13 points on 5 of 15 shooting.
The win for Bucknell (12-2) ended what had been a pretty competitive series the past four years, and completed a clean sweep by the road team. If it was also a preview of what's in store for Loyola (9-4) in the Patriot League beginning next season, as well as in its final season in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the Greyhounds have some work to do.
After a hot start, the Greyhounds went cold and saw a nearly six-minute drought toward the end of the first half result in a 34-23 halftime deficit and a more than three-minute scoreless start to the second half stretch it to 50-32 with 10:29 left in the game. The end result was Loyola's lowest point total since scoring 43 in a loss at Saint Peter's in January 2010.
"They were more emotional than we were tonight," Patsos said. "I told our players, 'You have to have energy and emotion to play this game.' … It's OK to lose but there are ways to lose that are acceptable or not. I didn't think tonight was very acceptable. We didn't answer. It was a great game early, it was 20-all and they went on a run and we came out in the second half and I expected to answer the bell and come back at them. I didn't see it."
Patsos didn't think Muscala beat the Greyhounds — "I thought he'd get 30 points tonight," Patsos said — as much as Bucknell's team did. Coming off a 12-point loss at Princeton, and still thinking about last year's loss to Loyola, which broke the Bison's 18-game home winning streak, Bucknell adjusted after the Greyhounds hit their first five shots, seven of their first eight and eight of their first 10.
"I thought it was a great bounce back after losing to Princeton. We also remembered Loyola coming to our gym last year and beating us and making the tough and winning plays down the stretch," said Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen. "I thought we were half a step quicker, a half a step more focused and a half a step more alert than we were against them last year or we were against Princeton."
After giving up 11 3-point shots against Princeton, Bucknell held Loyola to 1 of 12 on 3-point shooting Friday. The Bison did a good job forcing senior forward Erik Etherly (3 points on 1-for-6 shooting), senior guard Bobby Olson (3-for-11, 0-for-4 on 3s) and Cormier into tough shots. Conversely, Bucknell got the ball to Muscala (13 of 21) and even took advantage of making follows when he missed.
"We have Jordan Latham and Julius Brooks, we have two big guys who I thought could wear them down," Patsos said. Muscala "missed a few shots, but when he missed and they put it in, I was a little discouraged. It was like double indemnity. We were in a little trouble there."
Said Etherly: "I thought we took a few ill-advised shots all the way around. Personally I took a few bad shots. We got out of our offense. Sometimes we're good when we get out of offense, sometimes we're bad. It was one of those days. If we hit our shots, we'd be having a completely different conversation right now."
It won't get any easier for Loyola, which has to get on a flight Saturday to Nashville for its game Sunday at Memphis. At least the Greyhounds will get some of Patsos' cultural side trips out of it, with visits planned to Graceland, the Martin Luther King Memorial and a Grizzlies game. Patsos is putting more stock in the MAAC schedule that resumes next week.
"I've told our team this before, our record is 1-1 [in the MAAC]," Patsos said. "We're a mid-major basketball team, we're 1-1. That's our record. You know what Bucknell's record is? 0-0. They've done some things, but I don't know if they'll get an at-large bid [to the NCAA tournament]. It's three games in March, you have to win your league. We have to get better. We learned from that and we go on."