Sports

Bulldog’s jump shot seals men’s basketball’s narrow defeat

Yale’s Javier Duren sinks game-winner with three seconds left to break tie, lift Elis over Bears

By
Sports Staff Writer
Monday, January 26, 2015

Rafael Maia ’15 sank 13 of 14 free throws against the Bulldogs. He led Bruno’s scoring efforts, but the team fell just short of victory.

The men’s basketball team shook off  foul trouble and an absent Leland King ’17 to hang tight with Ivy frontrunner Yale until the game’s final seconds, when Bulldog Javier Duren nailed a fadeaway 17-footer to sink Bruno 69-65.

The nail-biter went back and forth in the final two minutes, as the Bears (9-10, 0-2 Ivy) consistently responded to Yale’s potent attack. Bruno’s last lead, 59-58 with 2:15 to play, vanishedwhen Armani Cotton nailed a three-pointer for Yale (13-6, 2-0). Point guard Tavon Blackmon ’17 — who posted a stellar 15-point, 5-assist line — answered with an acrobatic layup to tie the game at 61. Two free throws from Cotton gave Yale another lead, but center Rafael Maia ’15 grabbed an offensive rebound and finished with an equalizing layup as part of his team-high 18 points.

Two more Yale free throws threatened to be the difference with 25 seconds left, but Blackmon was there for Bruno once again, floating a teardrop from the baseline that fell to tie the game before Duren’s game-winning shot. Justin Sears sunk two free throws to seal it after collecting a steal on Bruno’s final inbounds pass.

“In the end, we just made one less play,” said Head Coach Mike Martin ’04.

Yale’s four free throws down the stretch were part of a tightly officiated game that included a staggering 54 total fouls. Thanks to the officials’ love affair with their whistles, the free-throw line and foul trouble became key elements of the game.

While the Bears had a slight edge in the charity stripe battle — making one more free throw and shooting 11 percent better from the line — the foul trouble certainly hurt them. Co-captain Cedric Kuakumensah ’16, often a difference-maker on both ends of the floor, was limited to just two points and 16 minutes of play. Blackmon — the offensive engine all game for Bruno — went to the bench with foul trouble for two critical minutes late in the second half, a stretch during which Bruno did not score.

But the Bears shook off the foul trouble and the rowdy Yale faithful throughout the game. The Bulldogs had the ball, a six-point lead and a tight grasp of the game’s momentum with 6:00 to play, but the Bears would not let them run away. Blackmon converted an old-fashioned three-point play, and J.R. Hobbie ’17 drained a tough step-back trey to pull Bruno back into the game.

“Coach puts us through different adversity situations every day, so I think we were prepared for it,” Blackmon said.

Cotton scored seven crucial points down the stretch for the Bulldogs, but the Yale offense ran everything through its two leading scorers, Duren and Sears. Duren, a quick senior guard with a smooth jumpshot, carried the team on his back midway through the second half. With Bruno leading 38-35, Duren nailed a long three-pointer, finished a twisting layup and splashed a jumper on consecutive possessions to turn the tables. The forward Sears did most of his dirty work at the line, finishing 11-of-19 from the stripe and 7-of-7 in the second half. Sears and Duren combined for 51 of Yale’s 69 points.

Besides two big treys from Hobbie and some scattered buckets, the Bruno production came from Blackmon, Maia and Steven Spieth ’17. The trio accounted for 28 of the team’s 34 second-half points.

Maia typically plays about 28 minutes per game and averages 9.4 points, but with fellow big men Kuakumensah and Dockery Walker ’15 in foul trouble, Martin called on his Brazilian center to carry much of the load in the frontcourt. Maia — whom Martin regards as Brown’s “toughest” player — logged a career-high 39 minutes while nearly doubling his average scoring output with 18 points. Spieth had a tough night shooting the ball from the floor, but was the biggest benefactor of the officiating, shooting 13-of-14 from the free throw line.

After the Bears suffered an 80-62 bashing at the hands of Yale last weekend, Saturday’s rematch in New Haven appeared an even tougher test. Add a boisterous Bulldog crowd and subtract Bruno’s leading scorer King, who did not travel with the team, and the recipe did not look good for a Brown team trying to avoid an 0-2 start in conference play.

But the Bears met the challenge with energy from the tip and took a six-point lead into the locker room at halftime.

“It was pretty easy to get energized for that game, because not only is it a league game, but they had just beat us in our gym,” Blackmon said. “Everyone was ready.”

The back-to-back losses to Yale send Bruno to the Ivy basement to start conference play, but a greatly improved effort in the second game could carry into some important road matchups with Cornell (9-9, 1-1) and Columbia (9-7, 1-1) this weekend.