Sports

Men’s basketball visits middling Ivy foes in trip to Keystone State

Bruno looks to escape Ivy cellar in Saturday games against conference foes Penn, Princeton

By
Sports Staff Writer
Friday, February 13, 2015

Cedric Kuakamensah ’16 dribbles past an opposing guard. The reigning All-Ivy defensive player of the year has taken a larger role since the departure of Leland King ’17 and hopes to get two wins this weekend.

The men’s basketball team captured its long-awaited first Ivy win last weekend and will look to carry that momentum into two tough road tests against Princeton Friday and Penn Saturday.

Co-captain Rafael Maia ’15 said the victory against Dartmouth (8-12, 1-5 Ivy) last Saturday, which lifted Bruno (10-13, 1-5) out of last place in the league standings, would only make the squad work harder to claw up the Ivy ladder.

Guard Patrick Triplett ’18 confirmed the heightened determination. “Practices have been pretty competitive,” he said. “The guys have been really pushing each other.”

The Bears will need to show some resolve — while middlings in the Ivy standings, Princeton and Penn possess talent that demonstrates the depth of the Ancient Eight this season.

Princeton (10-11, 3-2)

The Tigers run arguably the most efficient offense in the Ivy League, and it seems to be hitting its stride in conference play. Princeton controlled Columbia (11-9, 3-3) on the road and disposed of Penn and Dartmouth earlier in the season. Its only league losses came to first-place Harvard (15-5, 5-1) by three points and Cornell (11-11, 3-3) on the road by eight points.

Despite possessing the conference’s second-highest scoring offense, which averages a league-best 44.7 percent shooting, Princeton does not have a player in the top seven in the league in scoring. Instead, the team features one of most balanced attacks in the country, with seven players averaging six or more points per game and nine averaging three or more.

“You have to play solid on everyone,” Triplett said.

The Bears feature a similarly balanced attack, as any of the five starters can lead the team in scoring. Tavon Blackmon ’17 has been the best offensive weapon recently, scoring 13.2 points per conference game. J.R. Hobbie ’17 led the squad with 17 points against Dartmouth, Steven Spieth ’17 had a team-high 17 points against Yale (16-7, 5-1) and Cedric Kuakumensah ’16 powered the offense with 13 points against Columbia. Given the quantity of scoring options on each team, fans can expect shots to come from anywhere in Friday’s battle at Princeton.

In lieu of a focal point, the Tiger offense stresses passing and leads the league in team assists. A Tiger’s share of the production comes from beyond the three-point line, where the team shoots a stellar 38.6 percent.

Spencer Weisz — last season’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year — has upped his game for his sophomore campaign, leading the Tigers in points and ranking second in rebounds, assists and steals. Weisz paces the team of sharpshooters by hitting his threes at a 42.6 percent clip. Six-foot-8  forward Hans Brase is a major scoring and rebounding threat inside, but steps out to chuck more three-point attempts than any other player.

The Bears may need to give special attention to guard Ben Hazel. The Princeton senior scored only three points per game through the non-conference schedule but has come alive against the Ivy League, averaging a team-high 13.4 per contest. Bruno’s best man-up defender, Spieth, will likely spend most of his night across from Weisz or Hazel.

Offensive rebounds and second-chance points, which plagued Brown against Harvard, should not be a problem Friday in a matchup of the best and worst rebounding teams in the conference: Brown and Princeton, respectively.

Bringing the ball up the floor and getting shots off can be a struggle against a Tiger defense that is second in the conference in takeaways. But Princeton allows the highest opponent shooting percentage in the league, so if Bruno’s backcourt can avoid turnovers, the Bears have a good chance of scoring a lot of points. This puts the onus on  ball-handler Blackmon — exactly where Bruno wants it, given his tremendous recent play.

Penn (7-12, 2-3)

Like Princeton, Penn is not dependent on one or two scorers to generate offense, but the Quakers do have a true go-to playmaker in Tony Hicks. Seven players on the Penn roster pour in five or more points per night, but when the Blue and Red need a basket, the ball goes to Hicks. That principle was on display Friday when a Hicks floater fell at the buzzer to topple Cornell in Ithaca. After struggling against a tough non-conference schedule, Penn’s wins over Dartmouth and Cornell showed the Quakers’ fight.

Returning leaders Hicks and forward Darien Nelson-Henry form a 1-2 punch, but the emergence of sophomore Matt Howard is key to Penn’s attack. Howard has upped his average to 11.4 points per game since starting Ivy play, showing an ability to score inside, outside and at the free-throw line. Penn’s attack does not present nearly the potency of Princeton’s. The Ivy League’s lowest-scoring team has been prone to turnovers this season.

Triplett said the team focused on Princeton in practice and has not set matchups for Penn, but Howard likely poses another test for Spieth.

Maia expects to defend Nelson-Henry while Blackmon will be charged with containing Hicks.

A Blackmon-versus-Hicks matchup should be an exciting Valentine’s Day treat, with two of the league’s best floor generals squaring off.

Bruno could exploit an often-overlooked but critical source of offense: the free throw line. A hack-happy Penn defense leads the league in fouls, and Bruno draws more than any other Ivy. Spieth and Blackmon are two of the conference’s best free-throw shooters and can inflict quite a blow from the charity stripe.

The Palestra can be a tough place for visitors to play. As road losses to Yale, Cornell and Columbia illustrated, Bruno has trouble in the game’s final minutes. But Triplett did not give much credence to a late-game curse and expects results to differ next time.

“We just need to take it one possession at a time,” he said.

While the Bears are no longer in last place, they are still in the Ivy basement, and two road wins would change that. Friday’s contest tips off at 7 p.m.