Sports

Men’s basketball eyes Empire State matchups for first Ivy win

Loss of King ’17 puts Bears in precarious position heading into tilts with Cornell, Columbia

By
Sports Staff Writer
Friday, January 30, 2015

Rafael Maia ’15 shoots a free throw. The senior center will have to step up as Leland King ’17, the Bears’ leading scorer, leaves the team for personal reasons.

While an 0-2 start in the Ivy League was not what the men’s basketball team hoped for, the Bears can take a big step forward this weekend with their New York doubleheader at Cornell and Columbia, this Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Bruno (9-10, 0-2 Ivy) dropped two contests to Ivy leader Yale (13-6, 2-0) in the first two weekends of conference play, and the road will not get much easier this weekend. Cornell (9-9, 1-1) and Columbia (9-7, 1-1) boast the top two scorers in the Ivy League, and each team has a number of weapons on both ends of the court. The Empire State rivals split with one another to open league play.

A tightly matched battle against Yale on the road last Saturday could have given the Bears some momentum, but instead they took a hit this week with the news that starting forward and leading scorer Leland King ’17 is leaving the basketball program for personal reasons. The talented sophomore ranked fourth in the Ivy League in scoring and third in rebounding.

The loss of King certainly diminishes the Brown attack. That said, the team played a much closer game against Yale the second time around when King was not in the lineup. But guard J.R. Hobbie ’17 said the difference lay in the team’s energy, not in King’s absence.

“Leland is a great player, a great scorer, but it helps free things up a little bit,” Hobbie said. “We are moving the ball well.”

The Big Red went a dismal 2-26 last season, winning just one conference game en route to a last place finish. But the new season has brought new life to the squad, particularly in the form of senior forward Shonn Miller.

The 6-foot-7 Miller brought home First Team All-Ivy honors two years ago but missed all of last season due to a shoulder injury. He has returned this year and is quickly making up for lost time. Miller leads the Ancient Eight in scoring and rebounding, with 16.7 points and 8.1 boards per game. The senior occasionally steps out to hit a three but does most of his work inside, shooting 46 percent from inside the arc and 86 percent from the free throw line.

“It’s going to be a team effort. Shonn Miller is … one of the best in the Ivy League,” Hobbie said. “We come into every game knowing defense is going to win us games, and stopping him is a big part of that.”

After Miller, the Big Red is very top-heavy with its scoring. Three more starters — Robert Hatter, Devin Cherry and Galal Cancer — average more than nine points per game, but nobody else on the roster scores more than four. A member of Cornell’s top four has led the team in scoring and rebounding every game and in assists every game but one.

After attempting to defend the league’s leading scorer Friday night, the Bears will face the league’s second-leading scorer Saturday in the Lions’ junior guard Maodo Lo.

Preseason polls ranked Columbia close to Brown in a fight for third place in the Ivy League — behind Harvard and Yale. Thanks in part to Lo’s offensive exploits and a stout defense devised by Head Coach Kyle Smith, the Lions have some impressive games under their belt.

Columbia made national headlines when it traveled to undefeated No. 1 Kentucky for what should have been a blowout. Instead, the Lion defense limited the powerful Wildcats all night, and Columbia lead until midway through the second half when Kentucky pulled out a 56-46 victory. The game also served as a coming-out party for Lo, who hit four threes as part of a game-high 16 points.

Hobbie said the team is focused on Cornell and has not set its defense for Lo yet, but the Bears will likely counter him the way they guarded Yale guard Javier Duren, with a mix of Tavon Blackmon ’17 and Steven Spieth ’17. Martin may also put in athletic first-year Jason Massey ’18 to square up Lo, as he did with Duren.

Most of Columbia’s scoring comes from its back court, where second- and third-leading scorers Kyle Castlin and Steve Frankoski join Lo. Senior center Cory Osetkowski is a big body at 6-foot-11, but Bruno should have the advantage down low with talented big men Rafael Maia ’15 and Cedric Kuakumensah ’16.

With Columbia picked to finish third in the conference and Cornell resurging this season, the New York Ivies will make noise in the league. A strong showing this weekend is just what Bruno needs to forget its rocky start.