ANNAPOLIS -- It's clear after its inaugural game in the Patriot League yesterday that Navy will be competitive. But for the Midshipmen to win, center Nick Marusich will have to find a way to spend less time on the bench.
Marusich scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, but sat on the bench in foul trouble while Navy squandered a seven-point second-half lead on the way to a 78-74 loss to Bucknell in the league opener for both.
The 6-foot-9 center played 23 minutes and picked up his fourth foul with 16 minutes, 30 seconds left in the game and Navy leading, 51-44. By the time he returned with seven minutes left, Navy was down by 66-65. And with Bucknell's clutch outside shooting down the stretch, Navy (3-8, 0-1) could not get back in the game against what's considered to be one of the better teams in the conference.
"They called the game real close, and apparently I didn't catch on early enough," said Marusich, who hit six of 11 shots from the field. "I'm used to getting into foul trouble [he's had four or more fouls in six games this season]. It's the story of my life."
Foul trouble wasn't the entire story of the game. There was also the second-half play of guard Bill Courtney and forward Mike Bright. Both found their range in the second half (Courtney scored 13 of his 21 and Bright 11 of his 18 after halftime) as Bucknell (6-4, 1-0) won for the fourth time in the past five games.
"For someone not being able to walk two days ago, Billy did a great job," Bucknell coach Charlie Woollum said of Courtney, who suffered a contusion to his left knee in Wednesday's loss to Fairfield. "Our guards gave us a good effort in the second half."
That was after the Bison hit four of their first 16 shots on the way to falling behind by as many as 12 midway through the half. But the Midshipmen, who had built their 29-17 lead on the strength of defense and three three-point baskets, hit four field goals in the last 9 1/2 minutes of the half and saw their lead dwindle to one before three-point baskets by Michael Burd and Kevin Kozak gave them a 40-35 lead at the break.
"They played their zone so wide, and we haven't seen anything like that," Woollum said. "I told our guards to stop running the offense and start getting into the gaps."
A 9-2 run at the start of the second half gave Bucknell a 44-42 lead, but Navy's Mark Majick (14 points) hit two three-pointers during a 9-0 run that put the Midshipmen up, 51-44, with 16:36 left.
But six seconds later, Marusich picked up his fourth foul. And although Chuck Robinson (career-high 20 points) did his best to keep Navy in the game, the outside shooting of Courtney and Bright helped keep Navy at bay. Navy was within 71-70 after a tip-in by Marusich with 3:27 left, but Courtney responded with a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down that increased the lead to four. Navy looked to get back into the game with long jumpers, but shot 34.2 percent from the field in the second half.
"I think Courtney played well in the second half. He handled our pressure and made good plays," said Navy coach Pete Herrmann. "We could have scored inside late in the game, but we took some ill-advised half-open shots."