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Archive for Sunday, March 20, 2005

Giddy Bucknell hoping to make more history in OKC

March 20, 2005

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— When the Bucknell Bison arrived at their hotel in the wee hours Saturday, still giddy from pulling off the biggest upset in the first round of this year's NCAA Tournament, athletic director John Hardt wondered, "Who are all these people?"

In addition to the usual gathering of family, friends and fans, a new legion of Bison backers popped up. It included kids in town for a recreation-league tournament cheering from balconies and members of the Northern Iowa band, who had so much fun filling in for Bucknell's crew at the arena that they trekked out to the hotel to keep playing the new fight song they'd just learned.

"Only in America," coach Pat Flannery said.

The fun continued into the lobby, where players -- only five of them on athletic scholarships -- gathered around a television to watch highlights of their 64-63 victory over Kansas, an upset that was the first victory for a No. 14 seed since 1999.

Consider this script: The Bison not only won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in the history of a program that dates to the start of Division One basketball (1896), they did so against the tradition-rich Jayhawks, who had reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament every year since 1984 and were ranked No. 1 going into this season.

"Nobody wanted to go to their rooms," leading scorer Kevin Bettencourt said. "We wanted to see what everyone was saying."

Well, the most popular lines were "Who are they?" "Where did they come from?" and "How'd they do that?"

Bucknell's campus is in Lewisburg, Pa., along the Susquehanna River, an hour's drive from the state capital in Harrisburg, the Penn State campus and the home of the Little League World Series, albeit all in different directions.

The Bison's athletic history starts with Christy Mathewson and includes Jim Valvano coaching there before becoming an NCAA Tournament icon at North Carolina State. But until Friday night, the school's NCAA Tournament history was limited to a 22-point loss to Georgetown in 1987 and a 23-point rout by Syracuse two years later.

Heck, their conference's tournament experience was nothing but losses, 13 since getting an automatic bid in 1992.

Among those cheering on Bucknell (23-9) were players from sixth-seeded Wisconsin (23-8), Bucknell's foe today for a spot in the semifinals of the Syracuse Regional. The other game features local favorite Oklahoma State (25-6) against Southern Illinois (27-7) in Chicago Regional action.

There is, however, one detail to work out. As of Saturday night, Bucknell still needed a band. Northern Iowa lost, so its musicians headed home.

"We've called Rent-A-Band," Hardt said. "We're aggressively pursuing all avenues. It'll definitely be a surprise."

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