Sports

Peacocks prove no match for men’s basketball in season opener

Second-half surge, big game from veterans help Bears claim comfortable win over St. Peter’s

By
Sports Editor
Monday, November 17, 2014

Tavon Blackmon ’17 throws a pass. The sophomore point guard set a career high in points with 18 in the Bears’ home opener Friday, and added three rebounds, three assists and two steals in the 70-58 victory.

Point guard Tavon Blackmon ’17 and power forward Cedric Kuakumensah ’16 set the tone for the men’s basketball team Friday, as the squad kickstarted its 2014-15 campaign with a convincing 70-58 victory over St. Peter’s University at the Pizzitola Center.

Blackmon showed little rust in the season’s first game, amassing a career-high 18 points to lead the Bears (1-0). Kuakumensah complemented his point guard by shooting a blistering 7-of-9 from the floor en route to 15 points.

After Travis Hester hit a three-pointer to give the Peacocks (0-2) a 20-19 lead with 7:46 left in the first half, Bruno caught fire. For the rest of the first half and first four minutes of the second, the Bears went on a scorching 25-4 run. Forward Leland King ’17 had three buckets and seven points in the stretch, while Blackmon, Kuakumensah, guard J.R. Hobbie ’17 and center Rafael Maia ’15 each contributed three-pointers.

The Bruno lead was never fewer than eight for the rest of the contest, and Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 gave all the credit to his team’s ability to defend.

“It was a one-point game and all of a sudden we extended it to 20, and it was all defense,” Martin said of the run. “We won the game certainly with our defensive effort.”

Team captains Maia and Kuakumensah were given a tall order, guarding St. Peter’s First-Team All-Conference forward Marvin Dominique. But the bigs were up for the challenge and locked down the talented forward all night. Before two garbage-time buckets in the last minute, Dominique had just six points on a paltry 3-of-12 from the floor.

“He’s a tough cover because he can score inside, outside — he’s athletic. I thought our captains did a really good job defensively on him,” Martin said.

On the other end of the floor, a question for Bruno entering the season was how the offense would replace leading scorer Sean McGonagill ’14. Blackmon and Kuakumensah replaced him Friday in the aggregate. Blackmon’s 18 points were 10.6 more than he averaged last season, while Kuakumensah’s 15 surpassed last year’s average by six points. That’s a combined 16.6 extra points of production from the duo in the wake of their former captain — making up for the loss of McGonagill’s 17.4 per game.

Both Blackmon and Kuakumensah showed expanded range to break down the Peacock defense. The sophomore point guard had just eight three-pointers all of last season, but said he worked on the deep ball over the summer and hit two in the first half Friday. Even more surprisingly, Kuakumensah stepped out and knocked down a three — as well as some long two-point jumpers — which he never did last season.

“Coach tells me all the time: When I’m open, feel free to shoot,” Kuakumensah said. “My teammates found me tonight — I just was making shots.”

While the game was never close, some second-half runs by the Peacocks kept Bruno from getting comfortable, and Martin said the lapses show there are many early-season kinks the young team needs to work out.

“I’m pleased with the win — I do not think it was pretty,” Martin said. “We’re probably going to win ugly a lot this year.”

Martin identified turnovers and defensive rebounding as the most glaring problems in the first game, but added that great free throw shooting — his team was 24-of-30 from the stripe — kept St. Peter’s at an arm’s distance.

A few familiar names rounded out the starting lineup and stat sheet for Bruno. King is a threat to have a breakout offensive season and dropped nine points to open his campaign. After Maia missed much of last season with a shoulder injury, the senior’s return to the lineup provided a boost in the paint. The center collected 13 points and seven rebounds to accompany his stout defense.

Steven Spieth ’17 didn’t score much, but did everything else — eight rebounds, two assists and one steal. Finally, the sharp-shooting Hobbie picked up right where he left off last year, nailing two of three treys.

Bruno took the floor with some interesting combinations, including a particularly big starting five — four of the five starters stand over 6-foot-6. But the schemes seemed to work, as the Bears broke down both the man-to-man and zone defenses that the Peacocks threw at them.

The team is experimenting with many different personnel combinations early in the season, Martin said.

Three new faces saw their first collegiate action. Patrick Triplett ’18 was the first rookie off the bench, and Jason Massey ’18 grabbed a rebound in limited playing time. Backup point guard Tyler Williams ’18 turned in the best first-year performance and finished with five points.

Martin said Williams showed “poise and confidence” filling a ball-handling role the Bears desperately need behind Blackmon.

It’s the sixth season in a row Brown opened with a victory, but Bruno was the only Ivy League team to emerge from the weekend unscathed. The Big Red provided the surprise of the weekend, with a 68-60 win over George Mason University (2-1) after finishing with a 2-26 overall record a year ago.

Martin and company do not have long to enjoy their first win, as they welcome Northwestern University (1-0) into the Pizzitola Monday night. Coming out of the Big Ten — one of the country’s best conferences for college basketball — the Wildcats pose a formidable challenge. But Bruno played right with them in last year’s meeting and is not fazed by the power-conference opponent.

“It doesn’t affect us too much,” Spieth said. “We played them last year — unfortunately we didn’t close. We’ll be focused and ready to go.”

In the six-year streak of winning its opener, Bruno has never won its second game. Tip-off is 7 p.m. Monday.

 

Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Marvin Dominique had six points on a 4-of-15 from the floor. In fact, he had six points on a 3-of-12 from the floor. The Herald regrets the error.