Opportunity for upset slips away in weekend split

Men's basketball lose overtime nailbiter to Crimson before toppling Big Green for first Ivy win

By
Sports Staff Writer
Monday, February 9, 2015

The men’s basketball team may be the best 1-5 team in conference play the Ivy League has seen in a while.

“We’re not far away. I know our record would tell you we are,” Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 said after his team went toe-to-toe with league-best Harvard in a thrilling 76-74 overtime loss Friday. Bruno (10-13, 1-5 Ivy) bounced back Saturday to pick up its first Ivy win, holding off Dartmouth 67-64.

The weekend lifts the Bears out of last place in the Ivy League, but it could have been much more. Defending champion and consensus Ivy favorite Harvard (15-5, 5-1) needed every second of regulation and overtime to nip Bruno’s upset bid and deal the Bears their third narrow conference loss — two of which have come against the league’s two best squads. With Saturday came the long-awaited conference victory, as the Bears led the Big Green (8-12, 1-5) for the entire second half and squashed a late rally.

Harvard 76, Brown 74 (OT)

Two-time reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Wesley Saunders put back an offensive rebound to tie the game as the horn sounded, and the Crimson overpowered the home team in overtime to pull off the victory.

A jumper by Tavon Blackmon ’17 broke a 61-61 tie with 48 seconds to play, and Blackmon and Jonah Travis traded free throws to set up Harvard for a final possession with nine seconds to play, trailing by two. Saunders took the ball as he had done all night, but his jump shot from the middle of the lane rimmed out. The game appeared to be won for a fleeting second before Saunders lunged past Blackmon and Cedric Kuakumensah ’16 for a put-back.

Bruno fought back from an early Harvard surge in overtime that included another Saunders three-pointer, but the comeback fell short when a desperate half-court heave by Steven Spieth ’17 at the buzzer was off line.

“Obviously the difference for us was Wesley Saunders. He played inspired basketball,” Harvard Head Coach Tommy Amaker said.

By the time the Crimson pushed its lead to 13 four minutes before halftime, Bruno’s largest and loudest crowd of the season had fallen quiet. But Kuakumensah and Blackmon swung the tide. Three jumpers in a row from Kuakumensah — the last of which was a trey assisted by Blackmon — erased half the Harvard lead. The deficit was a manageable 36-30 at half.

“I like the fight that we have in that locker room,” Martin said. “We did a lot of things tonight to put us in position to win.”

The second half started how the first half finished — all Bruno. Blackmon converted a layup, J.R. Hobbie ’17 swished a short jumper and Kuakumensah brought the crowd to its feet with his third three of the game, which vaulted the Bears in front 37-36. All told, it was a 20-4 Bruno run against the conference’s top team. The game went back-and-forth the rest of the way, with Saunders and Blackmon leading their respective offenses.

Saunders caused problems for Bruno all night, as he poured in 14 points in each half and five in overtime for a game-high 33 and 10 rebounds.

Blackmon played his best game in a Brown jersey Friday. When he wasn’t scoring on spinning layups and floaters, he was feeding his teammates, notching two career highs with 25 points and nine assists. The point guard stepped up his game in crunch time, scoring 11 of Bruno’s final 13 points.

“We couldn’t stop that kid Blackmon,” Amaker said.

“When we recruited him, we thought he’d be a guy that could be the best point guard in our league and help us win Ivy League championships,” Martin said of Blackmon. “I’m very optimistic with Tavon as our floor general.”

Brown 67, Dartmouth 64

Call it Ivy League parity or inconsistent play by the Bears, but Brown played nearly as close a game against league-worst Dartmouth Saturday as it did against league-best Harvard Friday as it did.

It did not look that competitive when Bruno held a nine-point lead in the second half. Stout defense handcuffed the Big Green for much of the first and early second half, but Dartmouth found a way back into the game.

The Big Green closed a five-point lead in the last 1:10, and a Connor Boehm three-pointer with 34 seconds left made it 63-62 Brown. But that’s as close as it got, as Blackmon went 4-of-4 from the free throw line to ice the game.

The Big Green’s comeback attempts were repeatedly stomped out by the long-range shooting of Hobbie. Not only did the sophomore sharpshooter knock down five threes, but each seemed to come at an ideal moment.

When Alex Mitola hit a contested three that seemed to swing momentum toward the Big Green with two minutes left, Hobbie splashed one that ignited the crowd and doubled the lead. To make his 17-point effort more impressive, it came on the heels of an 0-of-7 performance from three-point range against Harvard the previous night.

“Yesterday I had a tough night, but I just know the guys trust me,” Hobbie said, adding that Maia pulled him aside after the Harvard game to tell him, “We’re going to keep coming back to you.”

Just as Blackmon and Kuakumensah had provided the inside-and-outside combo Friday night, Hobbie had a partner Saturday in the Brazilian center. Maia posted a double-double with 10 points and 13 boards and continued to show his defensive prowess by limiting Dartmouth’s impact center Gabas Maldunas to just 4-of-14 on mostly close-range shots.

Maia’s “defensive energy, I thought, was terrific,” Martin said. “On the backboards, getting into passing lanes, he played 35 minutes. He led us, and the other guys really fed off it.”

Dartmouth’s second-half rally was spurred on by the resurgence of Bruno’s turnover problems. The team coughed it up 19 times, leading to an 11-point advantage for the Big Green in points off turnovers.

“Winning is great, and I felt like we deserved it,” Maia said. “But we are not satisfied. We are going to work even harder because we know winning in this league isn’t easy.”

The squad hits the road again this weekend, taking on Princeton (10-11, 3-2) Friday before a Valentine’s Day date with Penn (7-12, 2-3) Saturday. The opponents round out Brown’s first time through Ivy League play, and if the first six games are any indication, they will be close games.