Sports

Men’s basketball bears arms against teams with highest Ivy attendance

To stay in title hunt, Bruno must sweep road trip and hope Yale and Harvard drop a game

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 28, 2014

The men’s basketball team enters the penultimate weekend of the Ivy League season with hopes of winning the title all but lost. Bruno trails Yale by two games and Harvard by three in the conference standings. With just four contests left to make up this ground, the Bears would need monumental collapses from the Bulldogs and the Crimson to finish atop the standings, but the team remains optimistic.

“There’s definitely still hope for winning the league,” said Tavon Blackmon ’17. “We’re preaching championship, championship, championship every day. We compete every time we step on the court as if we can win the Ivy League by winning this game.”

Bruno (14-10, 6-4 Ivy) will embark on its final away series of the year, with trips to Penn (7-16, 4-5) and Princeton (15-8, 3-6). The team split its home series against the Quakers and the Tigers earlier this season. The Bears will likely be at a disadvantage on the road, as Penn and Princeton record the highest and second-highest average home attendances in the Ivy League.

“The older guys and our coaches said we just have to keep our composure,” Blackmon said. “Don’t listen to the crowd, don’t respond to what they’re saying, don’t feed anything that they’re doing. Just stick to what we know and play our basketball.”

 

Friday: Brown at Penn

Rafael Maia ’15, the Ivy League’s leading rebounder, sat out both games last weekend against Columbia (17-10, 6-4) and Cornell (2-22, 1-9) due to an injury. Leland King ’17 took his place in the starting rotation and made colossal contributions to the squad, averaging 17.5 points and 10.5 boards in his two starts.

Maia participated in two team practices this week and is expected to return to the court against Penn, Blackmon said. But don’t be surprised if the coaching staff keeps an eye on Maia’s minutes and pulls him in favor of King if the junior appears to be in pain.

King and the team’s other starting forward Cedric Kuakumensah ’16 are more developed offensively than Maia — they can both knock down a jumper from just inside the arc with consistency as well as drive the ball to the basket.

But the King-Kuakumensah front line is undersized. At 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-8 respectively, both players are more suited for the power forward position. Penn’s starting lineup features the 6-foot-11 Darien Nelson-Henry and 6-foot-8 Fran Dougherty, a duo that Bruno struggled to contain earlier this season.

When Penn is not pounding the ball down low with its prolific post players, the Quakers’ leading scorer Tony Hicks is pushing the ball up the floor in transition. Hicks scored eight of Penn’s 10 fast-break points when the Quakers came to Providence. He blew past the Bears’ attempts to get back on defense and consistently converted his chances at the rim.

Bruno will have its hands full against a lineup that can score from any position. Maia’s return will solidify Brown’s defense in the half court setting, but the team’s forwards will need to hustle down the floor after a missed shot or turnover to prevent Hicks from turning the game into a track meet.

For the second weekend in a row, the Bears will be playing on national television. Last weekend, the NBC Sports Network broadcasted what turned out to be an overtime thriller between Cornell and Brown. This week, alums and basketball fans around the country can tune in to watch Bruno take on the Quakers. But don’t expect the Bears to do anything fancy for the cameras.

“We don’t think about it much,” Blackmon said of the national television coverage. “The only reason we know a game is nationally televised is because all the media breaks and timeouts are really long. It doesn’t change the way we play whatsoever.”

 

Saturday: Brown at Princeton

Bruno’s defensive efforts against Princeton will once again focus on T.J. Bray. The senior point guard leads the Ancient Eight in scoring and assists and is the third-most efficient scorer in the league, with a 55.1 field goal percentage.

Earlier this season, Bray exploded for 26 points, six boards, five assists and two steals against the Bears. He netted 17 of his points in the second half and contributed 11 of Princeton’s last 13 points as the Tigers edged Bruno 69-65.

“We lost our defensive focus last time we faced Princeton,” Blackmon said. “We were really undisciplined, and (Bray) took advantage of it. But we don’t change the way we play defense to adjust to another team. We just have to stick to our principles.”

Besides Bray, Bruno held the Tigers to a relatively poor night from the field two weeks ago. Princeton leads the conference in both treys attempted and treys made, but shot just 3-17 in the Pizzitola Center. The Bears are the fourth-best three-point defense in the nation and will need to stifle Bray and the Tigers from beyond the arc.

In Bruno’s final push for the Ivy League crown, beating Penn and Princeton is only half the battle. The Bears need other conference teams to hand Harvard and Yale at least one loss each this weekend. If the Bulldogs and the Crimson both win their two games, Brown will be eliminated from title contention in the 14-game tournament.