Sports

Despite dim weekend, young men’s basketball team has bright future

After a tough finale, Bruno is losing one of its all-time best players, but strong underclassmen offer optimism

By
Sports Staff Writer
Monday, March 10, 2014

One game had a sparse crowd, the other was a packed house. One opponent was the top team in the conference, the other was a bottom dweller. But despite the differences, both of the men’s basketball team’s final two games ended in narrow losses. Here is a breakdown of Brown’s performance on the court and in the stands.

 

What’s strong

As the Bears (15-13, 7-7 Ivy) witnessed the final game of Sean McGonagill’s ’14 Brown career, they also caught a glimpse of what lies ahead as Leland King ’17 delivered a career performance.

McGonagill wrapped up arguably one of the greatest tenures in the history of Brown men’s basketball with two strong performances this weekend, netting 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds against the Big Green before pouring in 26 points and dishing eight assists the following night against the Crimson. The senior finished his career ranked third on the school’s all-time scoring list and first in a host of other categories.

McGonagill holds the school record for most three-pointers in both a single season and a career, and for career starts. He is second all-time in assists.

Nonetheless, in what could be viewed as a metaphorical passing of the baton, McGonagill was not Brown’s leading scorer in either of the weekend’s games. That distinction belonged to King, who finished with 18 points and eight rebounds against Dartmouth and amassed a career-high 27 points, seven rebounds and four blocks against Harvard.

King’s performance offers a glimmer of hope as the Bears contemplate how they will fill the massive scoring void left behind by their prolific guard. King steadily gained confidence over the course of this season, and despite going 0-of-17 from beyond the arc in Bruno’s first eight conference matchups, the forward from Inglewood, Calif., continued to trust his shot and finished 10-of-26 from three-point range in the final six conference games.

It will not be easy to replace McGonagill’s offensive production — the senior finished second in the Ivy league in scoring with 17.7 points per game this season — but with a solid young core that includes King, Steven Spieth ’17, Tavon Blackmon ’17, Norman Hobbie ’17 and Matty Madigan ’17, the Bears have plenty of reasons to be optimistic as they enter the offseason.

 

What’s wrong

The loss of forward Rafael Maia ’15 and early foul trouble proved devastating for the Bears’ post presence over the weekend.

Maia, who has been plagued by a shoulder injury all season, was sidelined for both weekend games, giving King the nod for the starting spot.

This placed an undue burden on 6-foot-8 forward Cedric Kuakumensah ’16, Bruno’s only remaining player over 6-foot-7, who was forced to patrol the middle against the Big Green and an athletic Crimson team. Kuakumensah performed well, tying his existing school record with seven blocked shots Friday night before finishing with a double-double — 11 points and 11 rebounds — Saturday.

Nonetheless, fouls crippled the Bears — Bruno was forced to contend with several players in early foul trouble against Harvard — allowing the Crimson to claim a 54-24 advantage on points in the paint.

With Kuakumensah, the Ivy League’s leading shot blocker with 3.2 per game, alongside a healthy Maia, the conference’s top rebounder with 8.1 per game, the Bears will have one of the premier frontcourts in the Ivy League next season. But the squad’s ability to remain healthy and avoid foul trouble will be crucial to its success.

 

What’s new

A lively crowd filled the Pizzitola Center to capacity Saturday night, invigorating the Bears in their near-upset over Harvard.

Saturday’s matchup drew a crowd of 2,226, the largest of the season and more than double Friday’s turnout of 912. The packed student section remained on its feet for the duration of the game, and the rest of the crowd remained glued to its seats even as the matchup extended into overtime. Chants of “defense” rang out across the stadium, and rowdy students made a valiant effort to distract Crimson players as they went to the free throw line. The support had a noticeable effect on a Brown team that came out sluggish in Friday night’s game but looked revitalized Saturday.

The reasoning behind Saturday’s strong turnout is uncertain — maybe it was the fact that it was the last game of the season, maybe it was because the hated Crimson were in town or maybe it was a result of the free t-shirts being given away in honor of Brown’s 250th anniversary — but for one night this season, Brown men’s basketball drew a crowd that rivaled Duke University’s Cameron Crazies or any other fan base in the country in terms of passion, intensity and loyalty. Here’s to hoping the Bears can replicate that feeling more than once per season in future years.