Sports

Men’s basketball visits Dartmouth, Harvard in last regular season weekend

With Ivy League title potentially on the line, Brown looks to spoil Crimson’s season

By
Sports Staff Writer
Friday, March 6, 2015

The men’s basketball team has little on the line entering its final weekend of play. An Ivy title and even a .500 record are out of reach, but that has not hindered Bruno’s preparation for the road trip to Dartmouth Friday and Harvard Saturday.

“We just want to build on the foundation that’s been laid down over the course of this season,” said Cedric Kuakumensah ’16. “We always play to win, and we want it to be a good weekend for the younger guys to get some momentum and take that into next season.”

The Bears’ Friday bout could determine sixth place in the conference standing, as Dartmouth sits one game ahead of Bruno (13-16, 4-8 Ivy) entering the weekend. But the Big Green fell to Bruno earlier this season, so a win would give the Bears the tie-breaker.

Dartmouth (12-14, 5-7)

Midway through its Ivy schedule, the Big Green appeared to be the weakest team in the league and sat last in the standings. But thanks to a ferocious surge and the parity among the Ivies, Dartmouth needs only a strong closing weekend and some Princeton losses to finish in third place behind powerhouses Harvard and Yale.

The Big Green beat Penn two weeks ago and followed up with a stunning road sweep of Cornell and Columbia.

“Dartmouth is a fast-paced, up-tempo team that can slow it down and play in the halfcourt,” Kuakumensah said. “They have great shooting and solid big guys, so they’re a very dangerous team.”

History is on the side of Bruno. The Feb. 7 meeting between the Bears and the Big Green at the Pizzitola Center ended in a narrow 67-64 victory for the home squad. J.R. Hobbie ’17 drained five three-pointers in the contest, which kept Dartmouth at bay as Bruno led the entire second half of its first Ivy win.

The performance of Hobbie’s long-range game has been a good indicator of Brown success this season. The sophomore guard has drained four or more treys in a game seven times this season — including three times in conference play — and the Bears are undefeated when he eclipses the mark.

Getting the ball to Hobbie “falls on me,” said Tavon Blackmon ’17. “He’s played a lot more since league play started, and he’s one of the best shooters in the league, so I have to try to get him the ball any time I can.”

The play of co-captain Rafael Maia ’15 will be critical Friday. Not only was Maia the second-leading scorer against Dartmouth last time, but he will also be called upon to guard the Big Green’s talented big man Gabas Maldunas.

“Maldunas is a tough guy to handle,” Kuakumensah said. “Our coaches have stressed playing tough and not taking any possessions off in practice this week.”

Maldunas made his mark in the last meeting with 15 rebounds, but Maia held him to nine points — the only Ivy game he has scored in single digits. Miles Wright carried the Dartmouth offense at the Pizzitola, racking up 21 points. In the Big Green’s recent run, speedy guards Alex Mitola and Malik Gill have anchored the attack.

Mitola leads the team in scoring, which makes for an excellent matchup at point guard, as floor general Blackmon is Bruno’s leading scorer in conference play and a difference maker with his ability to pass and score.

In its three-game win streak, the Big Green has shown a tremendous capacity to outscore high-scoring teams, putting up 84 to oust Columbia, and out-defend defensive squads, holding Cornell to 45 points.

Harvard (20-6, 10-2)

Harvard’s Friday contest against Yale will very likely decide the 2014-15 Ivy League champion. But if the Crimson loses Friday and Yale stumbles at Dartmouth, Bruno’s matchup with Harvard would actually determine the conference champion. Regardless, the Bears will be playing for revenge after the Crimson stole a 76-74 overtime win Feb. 6.

“It’s easy to get up for Harvard,” Blackmon said. “They started the year in the top 25 and are competing for a league title this year. I think it’s easier to play against teams when no one gives you a chance against them, because all you want to do is prove those people wrong.”

The test for the Bruno defense will be limiting the consensus best player in the Ivy League. Wesley Saunders won Ivy Player of the Year in each of the last two seasons and notched a career-high 33 points and 10 rebounds at the Pizzitola in February as part of his compelling case for a three-peat.

Much of the credit for Bruno’s ability to hang with the Crimson the first time around goes to Blackmon. The sophomore posted his best game as a Bear, racking up career highs with 25 points and nine assists.

Saunders will undoubtedly carry the offense, but the Crimson features a deep cast of scorers behind him. Agunwa Okolie scored 11 points and corralled eight rebounds against Brown in the last meeting, and Jonah Travis made a huge impact off the bench with 11 points. Point guard Siyani Chambers and forwards Steve Moundou-Missi and Zena Edosomwan were all relatively quiet last meeting, but they are incredible athletes who could make a major impact.

Bruno’s frontcourt of Maia and Kuakumensah outplayed the athletic Harvard forwards last time around. Kuakumensah poured in 15 points in that game but has been a bit streaky in conference play, while Maia embodies consistency and will likely finish near his Ivy averages of 10.8 points and 9.5 rebounds.

With Blackmon running the point, Hobbie raining threes and the captains Maia and Kuakumensah manning the middle, it is easy to forget Bruno’s impactful glue-guy. Steven Spieth ’17 does a little of everything and could be a difference maker Saturday because he seems to turn up his game against the best opponents. Spieth scored 21 against Illinois and 15 in an upset over Providence — two possible NCAA tournament teams — and three of his top four scoring games in Ivy play have come against Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

The last weekend of Ivy League play also brings a number of side stories. The senior class of Maia, Dockery Walker ’15, Jon Schmidt ’15, Longji Yiljep ’15 and Joe Sharkey ’15.5 will play its last weekend with Brown basketball. Maia also currently averages .1 fewer rebounds per game than Cornell’s Shonn Miller, and if he can jump Miller, he will lead the Ivy League in rebounding for the third consecutive season.

Friday’s tip is at 6 p.m.