Despite the heartbreaking loss, Bucknell, which is 22-9 and saw its longest modern-day winning streak in school history snapped at 14, will await its postseason fate as both the NCAA and NIT brackets are announced Sunday night. Holy Cross, which improved to 25-8, earned the Patriot League's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament for the first time its streak of three consecutive titles ended in 2003.
Seniors Torey Thomas (career-high 28) and Keith Simmons (23) combined to score 51 of the Crusaders' 74 points, while John Griffin led the balanced Bison scoring attack with 15 points. Four Bucknell players tallied double figures.
Much like in the regular-season game at the Hart Center, Bucknell needed to come back from double digits in the second half and came up just short. The Bison held the Crusaders scoreless for more than five minutes as they reeled off 13 consecutive points after falling behind 46-27 in the opening minutes of the second half.
A left-handed hook by Tim Clifford and a 3-pointer from Keith Simmons, his only field goal in the second half despite tallying 23 points, put Holy Cross back up by nine at 51-42 with just less than 10 minutes to play. However, the Bison scored 11 of the next 13 points with a follow of a missed Donald Brown layup by Darren Mastropaolo knotting the score at 53-all.
Bucknell had a pair of chances to take the lead in the final minutes as Justin Castleberry missed a 3-pointer with the Bison down 51-49 and Abe Badmus came up short on a pair of free throws with the score tied at 53.
After Badmus missed the two free throws with 5:25 to play, Simmons went 4-for-4 from the free throw line and Thomas calmly hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to cap a 7-0 spurt and give the Crusaders a 60-53 advantage with just over three minutes to play.
Badmus proceeded to knock down a 3-pointer from the left corner to bring Bucknell back to within four points, but Holy Cross was 10-for-10 from the free throw line in the final 2:13 to seal its first Patriot League title since 2003, and its fifth overall. The Crusaders were a splendid 23 of 26 from the free throw line in the game, including 22 of 25 in the second half. Thomas was 13 of 15.
A pair of desperation 3-pointers by John Griffin in the final minute kept the Bison within striking distance.
Bucknell opened the game behind 2-0, but answered with a 9-0 run to take its only lead of the game. A four-point play by Griffin and a 3-pointer from the left corner by Castleberry highlighted the run that proceeded a Holy Cross 17-5 spurt, capped by a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Simmons.
The Crusaders later reeled off a 12-2 run to open up a 35-20 advantage, its largest of the half.
Bucknell managed just three field goals in the final 11:30 of the first half as it shot just 7 of 26 (26.9 percent) in the stanza. Holy Cross made a sparkling 15 of 26 (57.7 percent) in the first half, including a combined 9 of 14 from Simmons and Thomas. The Bison improved to 52.0 percent in the second half, but still shot just under 40 percent for the game. The Crusaders connected on 46 percent of their field goals in the second half and 53.7 percent in the game.
Mastropaolo cut the Holy Cross lead to 35-22 in the final minute of the first half, and Badmus nearly converted a short jumper just before the halftime buzzer, but it failed to roll in as Bucknell went into halftime trailing by 13, equaling its largest halftime deficit of the year.
Brown joined Griffin in double figures with 11 points and a team-high five rebounds for Bucknell as he came off the bench and played a team-high 34 minutes. He also had a thunderous dunk that brought the Bison faithful to their feet and made the score 51-49.
Brown and Chris McNaughton were named to the Patriot League All-Tournament Team. The Bison duo was joined by Clifford and Thomas from Holy Cross as well as American's Andre Ingram. Simmons, who was the Patriot League Player of the Year during the regular season, was the MVP.
Bucknell was well-represented in the crowd as six busloads of Bison fans made the six-hour trek from Lewisburg to Worcester.
Bucknell was trying to join Holy Cross as the only teams to win three consecutive