Jeff Jones (shown during a game earlier this season), on the loss to Bucknell: “I thought we played really hard. But particularly down the stretch, you’ve got to do certain things, and we weren’t able to finish.” (Mark Gail/WASHINGTON POST)

The American University men’s basketball team came tantalizingly close to what would have been its most significant victory of the season on Wednesday night. But the Eagles were unable to protect a seven-point lead with a little more than two minutes to play and walked off the Bender Arena court on the short end, 56-55, when Bucknell center Mike Muscala scored the winner as the clock neared zero.

Muscala, the Patriot League’s leading scorer and rebounder, collected an offensive rebound off his miss and banked in a shot for the final points, leaving American with 0.8 of a second. Eagles guard John Schoof inbounded to Jesse Reed, whose desperation three-quarters court heave came after the buzzer and sent American to its fourth loss in five games.

Senior guard Daniel Munoz finished with a team-high 13 points with four assists, three rebounds and no turnovers for American (7-14, 2-4 Patriot League). It was Munoz’s three-pointer from beyond NBA distance with 2 minutes 16 seconds to play that had provided the Eagles a 55-48 advantage before the Bison came storming back.

Senior forward Stephen Lumpkins had 12 points and six rebounds but committed four turnovers, and senior guard Blake Jolivette had 10 points to complete a trio of Eagles players to reach double figures.

“I am really proud of the kids’ effort,” American Coach Jeff Jones said. “I thought we played really hard. But particularly down the stretch, you’ve got to do certain things, and we weren’t able to finish. I definitely think our [team] is getting better, improving, and if we can get that kind of effort out of our guys on a consistent basis, there’s no question in my mind we’ll get better. Just right now it’s kind of bitter given everything the kids put into the game tonight.”

Following Munoz’s three-pointer, Muscala made 1 of 2 foul shots, and backup point guard Steven Kaspar sank a jumper to draw Bucknell to 55-51. Bison Coach Dave Paulsen immediately called timeout with 1:20 to play, and with 36 seconds to play, Jolivette was called for fouling senior guard Bryson Johnson on a three-point shot.

Johnson made just one free throw, but Muscala gathered the rebound and went strong to the basket. Lumpkins blocked the shot, though, and teammate Tony Wroblicky was fouled vying for possession. The junior center missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity before Johnson missed a three-pointer.

But Muscala collected another offensive rebound and scored, and Bucknell (18-4, 5-1) called timeout with 22 seconds to play. Munoz missed another front-end foul shot with 20 seconds left, and Muscala got the rebound to set up the dramatic finish.

Muscala, a senior, wound up with game highs of 16 points and 14 rebounds with four assists and three blocks, and Cameron Ayers added 14 points in the Bison’s fifth win in six games to keep pace with Lehigh atop the Patriot League.

Bucknell was able to overcome 39 percent shooting in the second half, including 1 for 10 from three-point range overall, thanks to a 24-16 margin in points in the paint, a 12-6 advantage in second-chance points and nearly doubling American in offensive rebounds, 11-5.

“I think the second half, we talked about grinding, and I thought we did that,” Jones said. “It’s not like we were making brilliant plays. We were kind of just out there really working and did a terrific job defensively even in the second half. But again, you’ve got to finish games better than what we did, particularly against a quality opponent.”