Bucknell dancing for first time since 1989

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) -- Kevin Hamilton stole the ball on three consecutive Bucknell possessions, helping cut a 20-point lead to four.

That's when Kevin Bettencourt planted his feet in front of Hamilton and turned back the Holy Cross rally.

"You hear the whistle blow, but for the first few seconds you don't know if it's going to be a charge or a block," Bucknell center Chris McNaughton said. "I think I knew we had the game won then."

Bettencourt drew a charge with 2:04 to play and added two free throws with eight seconds left to help Bucknell beat Holy Cross 61-57 in the Patriot League championship, giving the Bison their first NCAA berth since 1989.

Bucknell (22-9, 11-5) had impressive victories over Pittsburgh, Niagara and Saint Joseph's this season, but it needed to win on Friday for another invite to the tournament.

"Everybody -- I mean everybody -- should get to experience it," said Bucknell coach Pat Flannery, who went to the tournament as a Drexel assistant. "All we came up here to do is win. They made their run, we kept our poise and we did it."

Despite its record and the 16-game winning streak that ended Friday, the loss on its home court will most likely cost Holy Cross (24-6, 13-2) any chance at the NCAAs. No Patriot League team has ever earned an at-large berth to the NCAAs, and the conference has never won a game there.

"Everybody knows that. We know that. It's a fact of life," Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard said. "We knew that six months ago. We know it now."

The Bison had never won the Patriot League tournament, but it went to the NCAAs twice from the East Coast Conference -- losing in the first round in 1987 and '89. They came close in 1993, going 13-1 in the conference before Holy Cross -- with Bettencourt's brother, Teddy, as a reserve -- beat them in Lewisburg, Pa., for the title.

With his brother in the stands rooting for Bucknell this time, Kevin Bettencourt scored the Bison's first six points as they opened leads of 10-2 and 33-13. But Hamilton led Holy Cross on a 14-1 run to cut the deficit to two points with 58 seconds left.

After Kevin Hyland scored on a third-chance putback to make it 59-57, McNaughton missed and Hamilton grabbed the rebound. But Hamilton put his fallaway jumper off the front of the rim, and Bettencourt was fouled on the rebound.

Bettencourt sank the free throws before Keith Simmons missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Bettencourt also hit two free throws with 23.3 seconds left to beat 10th-ranked Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh on Jan. 2. The pressure was the same, he said, but "this was above that in importance."

McNaughton had 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting. Bettencourt scored 13, going 7-for-7 from the line to make up for his 2-for-9 from the field.

Hamilton, the conference leader in steals, had 21 points to go with five steals in the game.

Bucknell, which beat American 53-35 to advance to the championship game, has won seven of its last nine games. Holy Cross needed overtime to beat Lehigh in the semifinal.

Holy Cross shot just 21 percent from the floor in the first half to fall behind and didn't mount a rally until it trailed 58-43 with 5:55 left.

Torey Thomas hit a 3-pointer and then Hamilton grabbed the long rebound of a missed 3 and sank a 3 to cut it to 58-49. After one missed free throw and a turnover, Holy Cross cut it to eight points when Thomas drove the lane and dished it to John Hurley.

Hamilton picked off a pass at the other end, drove to the basket and drew a foul and made both free throws. Then he stole another pass and drove all the way in for a layup that made it 59-55.

The next time down, he grabbed another steal but as he moved toward the basket he was called for a charge.

"I'd like to see the replay on that," Willard said. "Down two with the ball, it's a tough call to make."

Bucknell missed a long 3-point attempt at the other end, but it ran the entire shot clock down and when Holy Cross got the ball back it trailed by four with less than 90 seconds left.

Hyland scored after a couple misses and Hamilton got the rebound of McNaughton's missed jumper, but he couldn't come back and tie it at the other end.