Sports

Men’s basketball falls to Tigers, out of Ivy title chase

Bears beat Penn on the road but fall at Princeton and are eliminated from contention for Ivy crown

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, March 3, 2014

A loss for the men’s basketball team this weekend — its fifth of the season  in league play — officially knocked the Bears out of the chase for the Ivy League crown. The defeat, compounded by Harvard’s resounding victory over Columbia Saturday evening, left Bruno four games in the Crimson dust.

The Bears (15-11, 7-5 Ivy) began their weekend auspiciously, knocking off Penn (7-18, 4-7) on national television 76-67. But they came up short the next night against Princeton (17-8, 5-6), falling to the Tigers 69-64.

Harvard (24-4, 11-1) widened its lead over the rest of the conference with two wins, while Yale (15-11, 9-3) sits two games behind the Crimson after picking up a win and a loss.

 

Friday: Brown 76, Penn 67

Bruno never let the Palestra’s crowd of over 3,000 fans faze it. Benefitting from the return of Rafael Maia ’15 — who fell out of rotation last weekend after a shoulder injury — the Bears jumped out in front from the start. The forward made an impact early with four points, three boards and an assist in the first five minutes of the game. He finished with six points and 10 rebounds.

“It was great to be back on the court,” Maia said. “I try to work hard to help my team, and rebounding is a big way of doing it.”

Maia “was great for us,” said co-captain and fellow front-courter Cedric Kuakumensah ’16. “Especially considering what he is playing through, he did a bit of everything for us.”

The Bears held a four-point lead at the game’s midpoint, led by eight points on strong mid-range shooting from Kuakumensah. The forward matched his first-half production in the second, finishing the game with 16 points, 10 rebounds and four rejections.

Bruno’s front line held Penn’s dominant duo of big men Fran Dougherty and Darien Nelson-Henry to just 16 points on a combined 5-of-12 night from the field. Last time the teams met, Dougherty and Nelson-Henry posted 29 points and a 72 shooting percentage.

“We knew going into the game it was going to be a war,” Kuakumensah said. “What changed from our first meeting with (Penn) was that everyone was locked in defensively. Our guards did a great job forcing (Dougherty and Nelson-Henry) to give up the ball when they started dribbling into their post moves. ”

In the second half, Bruno ran away with the game. Sean McGonagill ’14 capped off a 13-2 run with a deep three off a turnover. The senior co-captain played all 40 minutes and netted 15 points on 4-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc.

Penn was led by Tony Hicks, who dropped a game-high 25 points, though Bruno did manage to stifle him behind the arc, as he finished the game having converted just two of 10 long ball attempts.

The Quakers pulled the game within five with just a minute to go, but Steven Spieth ’17 sealed the win for the Bears with six clutch free throws. Spieth scored 19 points and collected a career-high 12 boards for his first double-double as a Bear.

“It felt good to play that well against Penn,” Spieth said. “I think it gave me a lot of confidence going forward.”

 

Saturday: Princeton 69, Brown 64

Bruno’s trip to Princeton resulted in a game that was eerily similar to their meeting earlier in the season, when the Tigers visited the Pizzitola Center. Brown managed to score one more point at home, while Princeton posted the exact same score each time.

The similarities went beyond the final scores. In both games, Princeton’s star T.J. Bray exploded for over 20 points, missing a triple-double by a couple rebounds and assists. McGonagill had two strong nights against the Tigers from the free-throw line and exceeded his season average for assists but struggled from beyond the arc, hitting just two of many attempts in each game. The Tigers out-rebounded the Bears in each contest, but Bruno still managed to score more second-chance points. And most importantly, Princeton won both games.

Unlike their last meeting — in which Bruno held the lead for nearly the entire first half — Princeton took it to the Bears early. The Tigers posted a 41-point half, with over 50 percent of those points coming via treys. Princeton lit it up from three-point territory, drilling seven of the 14 treys it attempted.

“They’re a very good three-point shooting team,” Maia said. “We knew how important it was to guard the three-point line. We started off the game not playing well on defense, but in the second half we did a better job. It came down to the details, and unfortunately Princeton was more effective than us.”

With just under six minutes remaining, Kuakumensah blocked a shot and ran the floor for a layup on the other end. On the next possession, Tavon Blackmon ’17 stole the ball from Will Barrett, which led to a layup for Spieth after Blackmon missed his initial attempt. Seconds later, McGonagill swiped the ball from Bray and found Blackmon on the break, who converted a pirouetting layup to give Bruno its first lead, 61-60, since the opening minutes of the game.

But Bray quickly squashed the Bears’ comeback, knocking down a trey a minute later to retake the lead for the Tigers. A couple free throws for Princeton and some missed opportunities for Bruno in the final possessions gave the home squad a five-point victory.

The Bears will close the season with a two-game homestand against Dartmouth (10-16, 3-9) and Harvard next weekend. If Yale can win both its games, Bruno will have a chance to play spoiler to the Crimson and give the Bulldogs a share of the title with Harvard — a feat the Bears accomplished last season by edging Princeton on the last night of conference play.

But Bruno will not be playing just to knock off a conference rival. “We are playing for much more than just to play spoiler,” Kuakumensah said. “Only four Brown teams have ever made a post-season tournament, so we are playing for that.” He added, “Even if we weren’t playing for a playoff birth, we are playing to get better as players.”