Sports

Without Blackmon ’17, men’s basketball can’t handle Sycamores

Concussion sidelines starting point guard while Bruno drops tourney opener to Indiana State

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, November 24, 2014

The men’s basketball team opened the Las Vegas Invitational on the wrong foot, dropping a third straight game by double digits in a 78-66 loss to Indiana State. Leland King ’17 continued his breakout sophomore campaign, posting a double-double on an efficient night from the floor, but his success was not enough to carry Bruno past the Sycamores.

The Bears (1-3) were without starting point guard Tavon Blackmon ’17 for the second game in a row. Blackmon suffered a concussion against Northwestern (4-0) and has not yet been cleared to play, said Head Coach Mike Martin ’04. Tyler Williams ’18 once again started at point guard for the injured Blackmon and held his ground, despite having to guard a talented Indiana State (2-1) backcourt.

The two teams traded body blows in the first 15 minutes, as neither side was able to pull away from the other. Bruno opened up a five-point lead — its largest of the night — with consecutive triples from J.R. Hobbie ’17 and King at the 10-minute mark.

Then, in the final five minutes of the first half, the Sycamores went on a 14-0 run, capped by an old fashioned three-point play by Devonte Brown. The junior guard combined with teammate Khristian Smith to score 44 of the team’s 78 points on the night.

“We just had small mental errors on transition defense, and they capitalized,” said co-captain Cedric Kuakumensah ’16.

King dropped in a layup as the halftime buzzer sounded, but the home team held an 11-point point lead at the midpoint of the contest.
Bruno opened the second half on a 13-4 run — during which all five starters plus Kyle Haber ’18 scored — that cut the lead to just two points. But throughout the half, Indiana State looked to Smith and Brown to quell the Bruno runs.

The two Sycamore guards shot a blistering 67 percent from the field and sank nine of their 13 free throws in the second half. In the final nine minutes of the game, Smith and Brown netted 25 of the team’s last 29 points, as Indiana State ran away with the game in the closing minutes.

Despite the disappointing start to the four-game tournament, there were a number of bright spots on Bruno’s score sheet. King matched his season-high 25 points on 10-of-20 shooting and added 12 rebounds to complete his first double-double of the season.

The Bears continued their dominance on the boards, winning the rebounding battle for the third time in four games. King led the way on the defensive glass, while co-captain Rafael Maia ’15 snatched four offensive rebounds.

Three-point shooting has also been a strength for Bruno this season — the team is converting over 36 percent of its attempts from beyond the arc, due largely to the sharpshooting Hobbie. The sophomore guard is shooting an otherworldly 57 percent from deep and has provided Bruno with consistent spacing and scoring off the bench.

Without Blackmon in the lineup, other players stepped up to fill his role as ball handler and distributer. Steven Spieth ’17, who has moved from small forward to shooting guard this season, dished out a career-high seven assists against the Sycamores. Spieth has been Bruno’s best passer in the season’s early contests, averaging a team-high 3.2 assists per game.

Williams has established himself as Blackmon’s clear backup and has been a stable stopgap in his first two collegiate starts. The guard has struggled to find his shot at times, but he has contributed a solid five points per game. Most importantly, Williams has limited his turnovers, something that the rest of his teammates have struggled to do thus far.

“Overall, our offense needs to continue to improve and get better,” Martin said. “We are turning it over more than we’d like and settling at times for contested shots. We have guys who can score the ball, but as a team, we need to execute much better at that end of the floor.”

After giving the ball away 23 times against Holy Cross (3-0), Bruno committed another 20 turnovers against Indiana State. While it seems logical to point to the first-years as the source of the giveaways, King, Kuakumensah and Spieth — all key returning starters for the Bears — were the three culprits against the Sycamores, accounting for 13 of the 20 turnovers.

Maia praised the first-years on the team, noting that they have all been prepared to play when called upon, regardless of the situation.
“Our freshmen are getting a lot of responsibility right from the start,” Maia said. “We all trust they can handle it.”

Martin’s entire roster will be put to the test Monday, when the Bears take on star guard Rayvonte Rice and the University of Illinois (3-0) in what may be Bruno’s most challenging matchup of the season.