With the women’s rugby club team seated behind their bench, the American University Eagles had the proper inspiration for their game Wednesday night against Bucknell.
During a 40-minute scrum at Bender Arena, the Eagles manhandled Bison star Mike Muscala. In their zeal to defend the 6-11 senior, 6-8 Stephen Lumpkins and 6-10 Tony Wroblicky each picked up flagrant technical fouls. But in the game’s final second, Muscala threw the decisive haymaker.
Grabbing a rebound of his own missed shot, Muscala kissed a put-back off the glass and through the net with .8 seconds left, giving Bucknell a hard-fought 56-55 victory before 1,428.
After missing his first five shots and sustaining a gash on his chin from a roundhouse elbow from Lumpkins, Muscala rallied to finish with 16 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks as Bucknell improved to 18-4 overall and 5-1 in the Patriot League.
Muscala was bounced around for 40 minutes, taunted by AU fans, and matched his career high for missed shots in a game in going 6-of-18. But he somehow emerged a winner, exhorting emotionally after his clutch shot.
It wasn’t pretty, especially when a dollar-bill-sized bandage dangled from his chin in the first half. And it wasn’t artistic as he got half his field goals by banging inside for offensive rebounds. But it was a transformational win that he delivered with toughness and will.
Afterward, Muscala wasn’t available for comment as he received stitches in his chin.
“We just wanted to be competitive,” AU coach Jeff Jones said. “Muscala, anybody whose seen him at all obviously knows he’s a terrific player. He can do a lot of things on the floor. We go out there and try to finesse him, he’s gonna have our way with us.”
It was a tough way to lose for struggling American (7-14, 2-4). With 2 minutes, 13 seconds left, senior Dan Munoz (13 points, four assists, zero turnovers) hit a 25-footer as the shot-clock expired to give AU a 55-48 lead. But that would be the Eagles’ final basket of the night.
After that, Wroblicky (seven points, eight rebounds, two steals) and Munoz missed the critical front end of 1-and-1 free throws, giving Bucknell a chance.
“It’s not like we were making brilliant plays. We were just kinda out there just really working.” Jones said. “But we’ve got to finish games better.”
Rugged defense had put AU in position to win. The Eagles harassed the Bison into 1-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc and held Bucknell to its season low in points (56).
Neither team led by more than five points in the first half. Early in the second, AU scored on five straight possessions to take a lead it held most of the rest of the way. Blake Jolivette (10 points, five rebounds) and Lumpkins (12 points, six rebounds) were instrumental in the surge.
But in the end, Muscala, the Patriot League player of the year as a sophomore and a likely choice in the next NBA draft, showed something beyond his undeniable skill set.
“We tried to make him work for everything,” Jones said. “You’re not gonna stop a guy like Muscala, but I thought we were successful at least making him work for his points.”
Appropriately, the basket he had to work the hardest for, was the one that one the game.