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Bison misfire early, lose at No. 1 Syracuse 80-61

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim talks to Fab Melo during a timeout during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Bucknell in Syracuse, N.Y., Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim talks to Fab Melo during a timeout during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Bucknell in Syracuse, N.Y., Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)
By John Kekis
AP Sports Writer / December 20, 2011
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SYRACUSE, N.Y.—Bucknell has played on the grand stage of the NCAA tournament more than once in the past six years and owns postseason victories over Kansas and Arkansas. So even facing the top-ranked team in the nation shouldn't have fazed the Bison.

Coach Dave Paulsen thought otherwise after Bucknell missed too many open shots in a first half that quickly slipped away in an 80-61 loss at No. 1 Syracuse.

"I thought our team in the first half came in in awe of them," Paulsen said. "We have tremendous respect for Syracuse and their ability and their talent, but we'd like to think that we would not come in in awe. We had some decent looks and couldn't knock them down."

Kris Joseph had 17 points and Scoop Jardine added 14 as the Orange had 10 steals and seven blocks in a workmanlike performance. Freshman Rakeem Christmas was the only other player in double figures with a season-high 10.

The Orange (12-0), who retained the No. 1 ranking for the second straight week, won their 30th straight nonconference home game.

It was only the second time Bucknell (7-5) has played the No. 1 team in the nation. The Bison lost to Duke, 84-50, on Jan. 2, 2006.

Bucknell entered the game 1-8 against Syracuse, but that lone win, a 74-69 triumph over the 17th-ranked Orange, came in the Bison's last visit to the Carrier Dome in November 2005.

Thoughts of another upset vanished in a flash.

Christmas scored seven straight points in the opening 3:20, completing his personal spurt with a follow of a miss by Joseph to give the Orange a 9-4 lead.

Syracuse shot 50 percent in the opening half and held the Bison to 8-of-28 shooting (29 percent) in gaining a 39-22 halftime lead.

Mike Muscala, the Patriot League player of the year last season, entered the game with five double-doubles, three more than Syracuse as a team. He was 8 for 8 on free throws and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. Ben Brackney had 11 points and Joe Willman 10 for the Bison.

Bucknell entered the game shooting nearly 40 percent from long range and went 2 of 10 in the first half, then hit 5 of 12 in a hot second.

It was too little and much too late.

"They made some adjustments and did some things differently in the second half," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "They got some open shots and made them, but then I thought we adjusted pretty well. If they had made their shots, this would have been a close game."

Bucknell shot 60 percent in its previous two games, wins over Binghamton and Richmond, but the Bison found few openings against Syracuse, and when they did they misfired a lot.

After James Southerland hit a 3-pointer to stake the Orange to a 19-8 lead midway through the first half, Willman missed a short jumper and Steven Kaspar missed an open 3 on consecutive possessions.

Then, after Brackney hit a 3 from the left corner to move Bucknell within 24-13 with 5:39 left, he missed an open layup, Brian Fitzpatrick failed to convert in close, and Willman missed another layup, taking his eyes off the basket as the Orange big men swarmed all around him.

"We missed our shots and it took away some of our defensive intensity, maybe," Fitzpatrick said. "I think if we could do it over, we'd probably come out a little more aggressive on the offensive end. We had our opportunities, we had a bunch of open shots, a bunch of layups. I feel like if we played like I know we're capable of, we could have given them a better game."

In their 79-65 win over Richmond on Saturday night, the Bison trailed 31-27 at halftime before hitting 14 of 20 field goals and 19 of 19 free throws in the second half.

Bucknell again fought gamely in the second against the Orange. Bryson Johnson hit three 3-pointers in a span of just over 4 minutes and Brackney hit another. That did little to dent a lead that ballooned to as many as 23 points as the Orange kept pace.

Syracuse finished with only nine fast-break points but hit 8 of 17 from behind the arc as the long-range game clicked again. The Orange made 11 of 25 in a win over North Carolina State on Saturday.

Syracuse shot 52.8 percent (28 of 53) for the game while holding Bucknell to 37.3 percent (22 of 59). Leading scorer Cameron Ayers had nine points, four below his average.

"I have a lot of respect for Coach Boeheim and the Syracuse program," said Paulsen, who coached across town at Division II Le Moyne College. "I think when we get a little perspective and distance, we'll feel better, but right now it's just a headache."

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