Sports

Second half determines men’s basketball’s fate against Princeton, Penn

Following loss to Tigers, Bears finish strong to defeat Quakers, escaping last place in league

By
Sports Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tavon Blackmon ’17 (pictured), Steven Spieth ’17 and J.R. Hobbie ’17 scored 54 of Bruno’s 71 points against Penn Saturday.

Trailing 30-29 at the halftimes of both Ivy contests this weekend, the men’s basketball team played vastly different second halves, stumbling down the stretch 75-64 to Princeton Friday and running away from Penn 71-55 Saturday.

The weekend split kept Bruno (11-14, 2-6 Ivy) from falling to last place in the conference. While the Princeton game illustrated the Bears’ ongoing struggles finishing games against the league’s upper half, the young leadership’s performance against Penn could be a sign of good things to come.

Princeton 75, Brown 64

The scouting report on Princeton would tell you that the Tigers like to fire three-pointers, and the team makes them at a higher clip than any other Ivy. Unfortunately for Bruno, that is not Princeton’s only strength.

The Bears’ defense hugged the perimeter and looked determined to keep the Tigers from getting open threes. The strategy worked at limiting the treys — Princeton made just three in the game — but backfired when the Tigers began to exploit the lane with slashing drives and backcuts.

Shooting a scorching 65 percent as a team from inside the arc, the Tigers scored 42 points in the paint compared to just 26 for the Bears.

“We went into the game really trying to stop the three,” said point guard Tavon Blackmon ’17. “As a result, we gave up a lot inside, which hurt us.”

Bruno staved off Princeton runs in the first half, coming back from an eight-point deficit to take the lead just before half. Rafael Maia ’15 had a first half to remember, scoring eight points and pulling down an astounding 12 rebounds. By game’s end, he had set a career high in boards with 16.

A 12-0 run by the home team to open the second half proved to be the difference. Princeton guard Stephen Cook, who had the first five points of the run, netted 18 points to lead all scorers. But Princeton, true to form, received balanced contributions from its roster. Four starters ended in double digits and four more Tigers scored off the bench.

The Bears have rarely let teams coast to victories this season, and they mustered a comeback attempt Friday on Blackmon’s back. The sophomore was the only player on Brown’s roster to score between the 11:03 mark and the 3:46 mark in the second half. He had 10 points during this stretch, and the once 13-point Princeton lead was down to just three.

But Amir Bell and Hans Brace combined to score 16 of Princeton’s next 17 points, as the game got away from Brown.

Following the lead of Blackmon and Maia, Cedric Kuakumensah ’16 scored 12 points, and Dockery Walker ’15 chipped in eight off the bench.

Brown 71, Penn 55

Penn took a one-point lead into the locker room at halftime Saturday, but in the second half, the Quakers had no answer for the Bruno Class of 2017. Blackmon, Steven Spieth ’17 and J.R. Hobbie ’17 compose a sophomore class that is as dynamic as any in the Ancient Eight. They combined for 54 of Bruno’s 71 points at Penn — including 34 of 42 points in the second half — and every time the Bears needed a play, it was one of the underclassmen who stepped up.

Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 had another name Saturday night for the trio of sophomores leading his club: “the core of our future.”

“They each bring something different to the table,” he said. “We’re putting a lot on their shoulders.”

The Bears took control of the game in the first six minutes of the second half. Blackmon opened the half with a three-pointer, followed by two treys from Hobbie in the next four possessions. Hobbie poured in a game-high 21 points and flushed 5-of-7 from beyond the arc.

“When (Hobbie’s) making shots, we’re a different team,” Martin said.

The closest Penn could make it was five points, but late free throw shooting — including 10-of-11 by Spieth — kept the Quakers at arm’s length.

Besides the sophomore’s potent attack, Bruno did an excellent job restricting Penn’s heavy hitters. Leading scorer Tony Hicks finished 1-of-12 from the floor, and his frustration was so visible that he drew a technical foul at an important moment midway through the second half.

Bruno’s defensive game plan focused on stopping Hicks, Martin said. When Hicks tries to score, “let’s have him seeing three or four white jerseys,” Martin said he told his team.

“I didn’t think our ball movement was great,” said Penn Head Coach Jerome Allen, adding that the technical foul “was a sign of where we are as a team in terms of our maturity.”

A 16-point conference victory on the road is uplifting for any team, especially one that has “struggled down the stretch in close games,” Martin said.

“That was one of our better performances,” he added.

Columbia (11-11, 3-5) and Cornell (12-12, 4-4) both bested Bruno two weeks ago, so the Bears will be tested when the New York Ivies visit the Pizzitola Center this weekend.

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