Sports

Men’s basketball falls to Yale, starts Ivy play with loss

In upcoming rematch, Bears look to put disappointing Ivy League opener behind them

By
Sports Staff Writer
Friday, January 23, 2015

Tavon Blackmon ’17 brings the ball up the court. The sophomore point guard was unable to contribute after fouling out in the second half.

It was an up and down winter break for the men’s basketball team, which went 4-2 in its final six non-conference games before getting drummed 80-62 in its Ivy League opener against Yale.

Bruno had its hands full to open its conference slate with Yale (12-6, 1-0 Ivy) at home Saturday. The Bulldogs were picked to finish second in the Ancient Eight in preseason polls and strengthened their cause with an 11-6 non-conference record that included a momentous upset of defending national champion Connecticut (10-7, 2-2 AAC).

After taking a 25-24 lead with seven minutes remaining in the first half, the Bears (9-9, 0-1) crumbled. Yale sprinted to a 16-point halftime lead with a 23-6 run that decided the game. The Bears fell even further behind in the second half, and the Elis left Providence with a crucial Ivy opening win.

Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 called the game “a good, old-fashioned beatdown,” in which Yale outplayed Bruno in “every facet of the game.” But the Elis owe their dominance largely to control of two areas ­— the boards and the free throw line.

The whistle-happy referees cited the Bears for 27 fouls during the game, and Yale’s 23 made free throws accounted for a 12-point edge in the 18-point contest. The infractions also kept starting point guard Tavon Blackmon ’17 off the court for the final eight minutes after he fouled out. The Bulldogs bullied Bruno on the glass all night, winning the rebound battle 45-37.

Doing the damage for Yale were its usual suspects, guard Javier Duren and forward Justin Sears. Each posted double-doubles, and the duo combined for 34 points.

“I’m confident we can respond,” Martin said, as his team looks toward a rematch with Yale Saturday.

Bruno has the blessing and the curse of meeting Yale twice in one week. It is the only time the Bears play the same opponents twice in a row, so the teams know just what to tweak, having just seen the opponent’s game plan a week before. This scheduling has contributed to Yale and Brown splitting their back-to-back contests in each of the last two years.

In order to continue the trend, Bruno must do a better job of containing Yale’s three-headed scoring monster of Duren, Sears and guard Jack Montague. Accounting for 36 points per game, the three players average over half of the team’s nightly output. Sears is a big body inside while Duran and Montague give the Bulldogs spacing on the perimeter, combining for four three-pointers Saturday.

Limiting fouls will also be a top priority for the Bears after Yale’s free throw advantage impacted Saturday’s loss. The charity stripe’s role is immense given that the game was almost even in most other categories: second-chance points, points in the paint, bench points and fastbreak points.

“The biggest adjustment we have to make is to play with a sense of urgency,” said co-captain Cedric Kuakumensah ’16. “Losing a game never feels good, so I think the fact that we are able to get another chance at these guys is all the motivation we need.”

An 0-2 hole is almost insurmountable in the Ivy League’s 14-game tournament, so Bruno will have to play well Saturday in order to keep from falling behind in the league title hunt.

Prior to the Yale defeat, the Bears completed a lengthy non-conference schedule. Wins over Central Connecticut State (2-18, 0-7 NEC), Sacred Heart (7-12, 1-5), UMass-Lowell (9-11, 3-4 AEC) and Lyndon State (3-11, 2-6 NAC) helped Bruno gain nine non-conference victories on the year, tying the highest total in program history. A talented Rhode Island (12-5, 3-2 A-10) team dealt the Bears a sound 80-60 defeat, and New Hampshire (11-9, 3-3 AEC) edged out Bruno 68-61 on a dismal shooting night for the Bears.

The offense showed some encouraging signs in the 4-2 stretch, including a season-high 88 points against Lyndon State. Balance continues to be a staple of the Bruno attack, with five different Bears — Kuakumensah, Steven Speith ’17, Leland King ’17, JR Hobbie ’17 and co-captain Rafael Maia ’15 — taking a turn leading the team in scoring over the six-game stretch. In the wins over Sacred Heart and Lyndon State, four starters scored double digits while the fifth scored eight points.

“Everyone on our team is a threat so on any given night someone can get in a rhythm,” Kuakumensah said. “We just trust each other.”

That said, three-point shooting woes and defensive lapses doomed the Bears in their losses. The Bruno starters shot a combined 0-for-15 from beyond the arc in the seven-point loss to New Hampshire, and while the Bears outlasted UMass-Lowell, they did so despite paultry 3-of-16 three-point shooting.

The defense, which looked excellent while holding lesser teams UMass-Lowell and Lyndon State under 50 total points, showed gaping holes when Rhode Island and Yale broke 80 points.

Bruno tips off in New Haven at 2 p.m. Saturday, looking to settle the inconsistency and even its Ivy record with a win.