Men’s basketball extends winning streak to three with weekend sweep of Bucknell

Senior guard EJ Stephens scored a career-high 31 points in the second game against Bucknell. (Photo courtesy of athletic communications)

The Lafayette men’s basketball team put on a clinic this past weekend, sweeping a pair of games against Bucknell and improving their record to 3-1 in conference play. 

The Leopards carried their momentum from the opening series against Lehigh as they defeated Bucknell 83-60 and 87-76 on Jan 9 and 10, respectively. The 23-point victory on Saturday was Lafayette’s largest since their Patriot League Quarterfinal victory over Boston University in 2015. 

The Leopards controlled the pace of Saturday’s game against Bucknell from the opening tip, beginning the game on an 11-2 run and never looking back. Bucknell was able to cut Lafayette’s lead to six early in the first half, but sophomore forward Leo O’Boyle responded with two consecutive buckets to push the Leopard lead to 23-10. 

The Leopards continued to pour on the points in the first half, going on an 11-1 run and taking a commanding 32-11 lead with around seven minutes remaining. Lafayette ended the half with a 46-25 lead, and never trailed in the game. 

“Our shooters were hot, especially in the first half,” said sophomore forward Neal Quinn. “Our defense was solid overall as well so we managed to get the lead through our shooting and maintain it through our good defense.” 

Bucknell was able to cut the Leopard advantage to 12 with just over six minutes remaining, but that was as close as the Bison would get; Lafayette then rattled off a quick 9-0 run to put the game out of reach. 

Lafayette won the first game behind a balanced offensive effort, with five players scoring in double figures. Senior co-captain EJ Stephens led the way with 18 points on 50 percent shooting while Quinn and O’Boyle chipped in thirteen apiece.

Senior co-captain Justin Jaworski, who came into the game as the NCAA’s leading scorer (32.5), put up 11 points, while freshman forward Kyle Jenkins added 12 to round out the double figure scorers. 

Although the team did not play any non-conference games this year, they have been able to hit the ground running in league play.

“It was harder for the freshman since they don’t know how a typical season works, but since we all love the game and want to play, we do whatever we can with the circumstances we are given,” Quinn said. “We are starting to level out and are looking pretty good.”

Pretty good indeed. Throughout the majority of Saturday’s contest, Lafayette controlled the defensive side of the ball and held a 44-32 advantage on the glass. The Leopards also managed 17 steals and  capitalized on Bucknell’s turnovers, compiling 25 points on 22 Bison giveaways. 

Sunday’s game saw the script flip on the Leopards, but the team hung tough for a come-from-behind victory. 

Bucknell began the game on an 11-2 run which quickly grew to a 17-8 lead midway through the half. But the nine-point Bison lead would be the largest they would hold all night, as Stephens delivered for the Leopards in a major way. 

Lafayette quickly went on a 17-9 run, led by Stephens, to retake the lead at 29-26 with seven minutes left in the half. From there, the Leopards rode another 11-1 run to take a commanding 40-28 lead in the waning moments of the half.

But right as Lafayette seemed primed to take over, Bucknell stormed back with an 11-2 run of their own to close the half, moving the score to 42-39 in favor of the Leopards. In a fitting way to end an eventful first half, Jaworski knocked down a last second three to put the Leopards up 45-39 heading into the break. 

Jaworski picked up right where he left off to start the second half, scoring a quick seven points as the Leopards took a 55-45 lead with 15 minutes remaining. Stephens then took full control as he scored nine straight to push the lead to 12 at 65-53. 

The contributions quickly piled on as the Leopards took a 22 point lead, 79-57, with eight minutes left in the game behind key shots from freshman guard Jon Brantley and junior guard Tyrone Perry.

But the Bison would continue to hang around, narrowing the gap to just nine points, 81-72, with two and a half minutes to play. The Leopards held on at the end, as free throws by Quinn, Stephens and Jaworski put the finishing touches on a convincing victory. 

Stephens tallied a career-high 31 points on an efficient 9-14 shooting from the field, notched a perfect 10-10 effort from the charity stripe, and was subsequently named the Patriot League Player of the Week on Tuesday. Stephens’ previous career-high of 30 points came a week prior against Lehigh. 

Stephens is on a remarkable tear to open this season, and currently is tied with Jaworski as the nation’s fifth leading scorer at 22.8 points per game. While Stephens has said he’s playing with ‘a chip on his shoulder,’ his performance suggests he’s playing with an entire Pringles can. 

Once again, in Sunday’s competition, contributions for the Leopards came from many players. Perry tallied 17 points and Jaworski added another 15. Quinn again made his presence felt down low with double-digit rebounds to go with six points, five assists and three blocks. 

The Leopards look to continue their hot start, which has them on a three-game win streak, when they face Loyola Maryland in a double-header this coming weekend. Lafayette will host the Greyhounds on Saturday before traveling to Baltimore on Sunday. 

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