Playing its first game since losing a heartbreaker to Villanova, La Salle fell, 89-77, to Bucknell last night at the Tom Gola Arena.
Bucknell (5-6) took control early and never trailed past the 16-minute mark of the first half. The Bison relied on steady defense and reliable production from their big men to lead by eight at halftime.
Sophomore forwards Joe Willman and Mike Muscala scored nine points each in the opening 20 minutes to lead Bucknell. Both players, however, also had two fouls by halftime. Muscala managed to work past his foul trouble, as he led the Bison with 21 points.
"[Muscala is] too good," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "If you just let him get the ball where he wants to, it's a big problem. They had a big guy, and their guards had great aggressiveness and made good passes."
One of Bucknell's guards, junior Bryan Cohen, an Abington Friends alum and the reigning Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, scored a season-high 19. Cohen also helped limit Ruben Guillandeaux to 13 points on 4-for-13 shooting.
"I know he's capable of [scoring like that]," Giannini said of Cohen. "He's been focusing on defense more, and he hasn't been putting up those kind of numbers, but I have a lot of respect for Bryan. I know that he can have a great game like that."
La Salle went on a 12-3 run early in the second half to close the deficit to 51-47. But the Explorers never seemed in the game, Giannini said.
"I thought they had the advantage in every way, shape and form all night long," Giannini said. "I never thought the game was close, even when we cut it to four. I was cautiously optimistic, but not confidently optimistic."
The Bison shot 54.8 percent from the field, including 60 percent in the second half and 50 percent from beyond the arc. La Salle was close behind, at 50.9 percent from the field. The Bison had 23 assists on 34 field goals.
La Salle lost a close one to the Wildcats on Sunday, 84-81. The loss lingered with the Explorers, although how is up for interpretation, Giannini said.
"[The Villanova loss affected the team] on many levels," Giannini said. "Whether it's emotionally being a little down or whether it's thinking you're a little bit better than you are. This week was a perfect storm of negative factors.
"But Bucknell is really good. If I wasn't getting beaten so soundly, I would have really enjoyed watching them play. They were wonderful, and we were far short of that."
La Salle allowed an opponent to surpass 80 points for the third straight game. The 12 points tied the Explorers' largest margin of defeat all season.
"It may sound bizarre, but in some ways I'm relieved," Giannini said. "It's the first game like this that we lost. I knew we were capable of it. I knew that we weren't practicing well enough. I knew that we weren't consistent enough."
Sophomore center Aaric Murray scored a career-high 28 points for La Salle and also collected his 100th career block. Murray reached the milestone in 41 games, making him the quickest Explorer ever to accomplish the feat. The previous record was held by Lionel Simmons, who reached the century mark in 50 games.