Sports

Men’s basketball to host Cornell, Columbia

Yet to win two consecutive Ivy games, Bruno looks to take down middling New York opposition

By
Sports Staff Writer
Friday, February 20, 2015

The men’s basketball team’s New York road trip — in which the squad lost consecutive games to Cornell and Columbia — was Bruno’s worst weekend of the season, as the team fell to 0-4 in league play. But the Bears (11-14, 2-6 Ivy) welcome the Big Red Friday and the Lions Saturday with the opportunity to serve a double dose of revenge.

“It does provide a lot of extra motivation, especially since we lost two games we thought we were in,” said guard J.R. Hobbie ’17, adding that since the Bears have seen these teams before, they know what to expect.

Columbia (11-11, 3-5)

With the Ivy League’s leading scorer in guard Maodo Lo and one of its best defenses, Columbia is somehow just 3-5 in the conference. Four-point defeats to Ivy leaders Harvard (17-5, 7-1) and Yale (18-7, 7-1) made sense, but losses to Cornell at home and Dartmouth (9-13, 2-6) on the road raised some eyebrows. It could be a testament to the strength of the Ancient Eight this season, because Columbia is still the impressive team that dealt Bruno an 86-65 defeat Jan. 31.

The last meeting against the Bears was one of Columbia’s best offensive performances, and it was clear that Bruno lost the game on the defensive side of the ball. Brown gives up more points than any other team in the Ivy League, and it showed at Columbia.

That contest was a closer match that the 21-point margin suggests — it was a one-point game with 6:12 remaining — but Columbia’s three-point shooting roasted the Bears down the stretch. The Lions lit up the Big Apple, nailing 14 treys. The outpouring was no fluke — they hit 15 threes against Penn a week later — so Bruno will need to emphasize perimeter defense in Friday’s game.

Behind Lo, a lethal shooter who scores 16.2 points per game, Kyle Castlin has become a potent weapon for the Lions in his rookie campaign. Castlin can hit a trey but prefers to slash to the basket, as he demonstrated with a career-high 21 points when the Bears visited New York City. Columbia Head Coach Kyle Smith can turn to more shooters off the bench, including Steve Frankoski, a senior guard who has shot a tremendous 53.6 percent from beyond the arc in Ivy play.

“They blitzed us from the three-point line last game, so that’s something we’ve been focusing on,” Hobbie said. After watching the film, “it was evident that we didn’t play as hard as we should have,” he added.

Lo, Castlin and Frankoski comprise a formidable but undersized Columbia attack. The guard-heavy Lions offense relies on shooters, and when Lo and Castlin combined for 2-of-13 on threes against last-place Dartmouth last weekend, the Big Green upset them. Bruno will look to frontcourters Rafael Maia ’15 and Cedric Kuakumensah ’16 to give them an interior edge.

The Bears offense fared well against a stout Columbia defense in their first meeting, with all five Bruno starters scoring in double figures. Hobbie and Tavon Blackmon ’17 have powered the attack in conference play, but Hobbie, who relies on three-pointers for most of his production, may struggle against a Columbia defense that has allowed the fewest treys in the conference.

The Lions’ dearth of skilled forwards should translate to a rebounding edge for the Bears, but they had no such advantage in the first contest with Columbia. If Bruno, the league’s top rebounding team, can flex muscle on the glass, it could lead to a different result this time around.

Cornell (12-12, 4-4)

Cornell has been the surprise of the Ivy League this year, though some predicted its bounce-back season because of the return of dynamic forward Shonn Miller. Miller trails only Lo on the Ivy scoring leaderboard and is tied with Maia for the league’s top rebounder. Thanks in large part to Miller, the Big Red has won four conference games, including an upset over Princeton (11-12, 4-3) Feb. 7. Rejuvenated Cornell is a comparable team to Brown, as evidenced by their Jan. 30 meeting, which was tied with 1:18 left before Cornell pulled it out 57-49.

The first meeting was a war of attrition: neither defense yielded much and neither offense took control. Brown’s defense was stingy behind Maia. The center denied Miller all game, allowing him to score just eight points and grab only three rebounds. If Maia can repeat his performance Saturday, Bruno will be in the game.

Devin Cherry and Galal Cancer stepped up to lead the Big Red in the last meeting, with the latter scoring seven consecutive points for Cornell as it overtook Brown in the last minute.

“We focused a lot on guarding our individual matchups,” Hobbie said, noting the impact that Miller can make and the importance of Maia and the rest of the defense containing him.

Only four Cornell players score more than three points per game. But the Bears can only exploit their opponent’s lack of depth if they can score themselves, which they failed to do against the Big Red last time around. Only one Bear, Blackmon, scored in double digits, and he needed 14 attempts from the field and six attempts from the line to get there. Hobbie is unlikely to have any more luck finding shots against Cornell, which holds opponents to the lowest three-point percentage of any team in the conference.

“Columbia and Cornell key on guarding the three-point line, so it should open up a lot for guys on the interior and guys driving,” Hobbie said. “I’ll just have to step up and make the shots I get.”

Cornell’s defense relies on forcing turnovers and contesting three-point attempts. Though a nonfactor offensively, Big Red center David Onuorah blocked seven shots and grabbed eight rebounds in a stout defensive performance against Brown earlier this season.

The Big Red has sent four of its last five opponents to the line for 23 or more free throws. This trend favors Blackmon and Steven Spieth ’17, who can draw fouls and are instrumental from the line.

With Harvard and Yale pulling away from the rest of the Ivy League, this weekend’s games at the Pizzitola Center may not feature any team in serious contention for an Ivy title. But Bruno’s disastrous start to league play could be a distant memory if the Bears climb to fourth in the conference with two wins. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.