Sports

Men’s basketball strives to solidify top-four finish in conference

McGonagill ’14 finishes impressive career with two games in Pizzitola Center this weekend

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, March 7, 2014

Barring an unlikely bid to a postseason tournament, the men’s basketball team will play its final two games of the season this weekend. The Bears will square off with Dartmouth Friday before taking on Ivy leader Harvard on Bruno’s senior night Saturday.

If Bruno manages to win at least one game this weekend, it will finish in the top half of the conference for the second year in a row. The last time the Bears completed the season with a better record than four other teams in back-to-back years, Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 was their starting point guard.

Brown (15-11, 7-5 Ivy) has a great chance to solidify its position in the top of the standings against the Big Green (10-16, 3-9), a team that has struggled after losing star center Gabas Maldunas to a season-ending knee injury. Before Dartmouth’s win over Cornell (2-24, 1-11) — which is on its way to its worst season in over a decade — the Big Green had lost seven straight games.

If the Bears fail to capitalize on their Friday game, a much tougher opponent will stand between them and the top-half of the standings. The Crimson (24-4, 11-1) have already clinched a share of the Ivy League title and need just one win this weekend to win the league outright.

If a shot at revenge against the best team in the conference is not enough motivation for the Bears, Saturday is also senior night. Josh Biber ’14 and Sean McGonagill ’14 will don their uniforms for the last time at the Pizzitola Center. The game notably marks the end of the McGonagill era, as the senior’s record-setting four-years as a starter come to a close.

The matchup against Harvard “is big for the entire team, but especially for Sean,” said forward Dockery Walker ’15. “Sean has been a huge piece of our success this season, and it would be great if we could get him a win in his last game on our home court.”

 

Friday: Dartmouth vs. Brown

Last season, Alex Mitola exploded into the Ivy League, starting all 28 games for Dartmouth as a first-year. Mitola averaged over 11 points per game and knocked down nearly 40 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.

Mitola is experiencing similar success this season, averaging exactly 11 points and drilling an even higher percentage of three-pointers. Last weekend, he posted a career-high 33 points — the highest total tallied by a Dartmouth player in over 13 seasons — in the Big Green’s win over the Big Red.

But overall the team has missed the production of Maldunas. Since the junior from Lithuania went down with a torn ACL in January, Dartmouth has won just three of its last 11 games after starting the  season 7-8.

Bruno boasts a high-caliber sophomore of its own in Cedric Kuakumensah ’16, who has been on a tear recently. Over his last five games, Kuakumensah has averaged 19 points, nine rebounds and five blocks. Against Cornell, he totaled 14 boards and posted career-bests in points and blocks with 30 and 7, respectively.

“He’s been having amazing all-around games for us,” Walker said. “He’s scoring points, grabbing rebounds and blocking shots. It’s big for us to get offensive and defensive production from him.”

Kuakumensah and his teammates should be able to handle Mitola and the struggling Big Green. The Bears are 8-3 at home this season, while Dartmouth has gone just 2-9 on the road. The stands should be packed with fans for Bruno’s duel with Dartmouth this weekend, since the game coincides with the University’s 250th anniversary.

With Rafael Maia ’15 likely back at full strength, Leland King ’17 becoming a regular contributor and McGonagill fueled by desire to finish his career on a high note, Bruno could very well clinch a top-four finish Friday.

 

Saturday: Harvard vs. Brown

The last time Bruno clashed with the Crimson — a Feb. 7 meeting at Lavietes Pavillion in Cambridge — the teams managed to net only 97 points combined, just 24 more than Harvard’s season average. Cold shooting and staunch defense from both sides led the Bears’ and Crimson’s offensive squads to a combined 29 percent from the field.

Last weekend, the Bears shut down Penn forwards Darien Nelson-Henry and Fran Dougherty, a duo with size and strength that usually dominates opponents.

Harvard’s starting front line comprises Steve Moundou-Missi and Kyle Casey, both of whom are undersized for their position at just 6-foot-7. Casey and Moundou-Missi are a completely different breed from the Nelson-Henry and Dougherty types — they are athletic, run the floor well, contest every shot in the paint and dunk the ball in transition.

Casey and Moundou-Missi are nearly identical players statistically. They both average 10 points and five and a half rebounds per game. Both players rank in the league’s top five for blocks, collecting over one rejection per game. Casey occasionally steps back and hits a three, while Moundou-Missi spends most of his time near the rim.

But the Bears will not treat Harvard’s athletic big men any differently than they do a pair of traditional big men, Walker said.

“Our defensive principles will always be the same, no matter who we’re facing,” Walker said. “We want to stay solid in the post and not let the team make any easy entry passes.”

Regardless of the outcome of Bruno’s games against Harvard and Dartmouth, Martin will end his second season as head coach with at least a .500 winning percentage. Martin has created a core of young players who all possess maturity and abilities that belie their age, Walker said.

As McGonagill is the only senior who sees significant playing time, the team should continue to find success for years to come.

“The team that I’m playing on right now is way above the teams that I’ve been a part of in the past,” Walker said. “I’m really enjoying playing under Coach Martin and being a part of a winning tradition.”