Sports

In disappointing weekend, men’s basketball surrenders leads to Crimson, Big Green

Dartmouth offense overcomes 24-point deficit to topple Bruno in its penultimate contest in Hanover

By
Sports Staff Writer
Monday, March 9, 2015

As it has many times this season, poor second-half defense doomed the men’s basketball team en route to a final weekend sweep at Dartmouth and Harvard. Bruno coughed up a 24-point lead in the final 13:24 to fall 75-69 to the Big Green and surrendered a more modest four-point second-half lead in a 72-62 loss to the Crimson.

“We were all very upset that the season ended the way it did,” said Cedric Kuakumensah ’16. “We all had really high expectations. But the coaches did a great job turning the page and reiterating to us that the feeling of losing is not a good one.”

With the tough weekend, Bruno concludes a lackluster season with a 13-18 record and a 4-10 Ivy mark. The Bears will most likely finish seventh in the conference, barring an upset by Penn over Princeton this week that would condemn Bruno to last place.

Dartmouth (14-14, 7-7)

For the first 26 minutes of the game in Hanover Friday, the Bears played as well as they have all season. Not only did they shoot the three well, but they also moved the ball effectively and got open looks, resulting in 10 team assists in the first 20 minutes. Kuakumensah, Jason Massey ’18 and Tyler Williams ’18 each hit a three-pointer and J.R. Hobbie ’17 drained two.

At the midpoint, Rafael Maia ’15 already had a double-double, and his 10 points exceeded the nine put up by Dartmouth’s starting lineup.

Hobbie credited the early success to Bruno’s “high intensity” play, adding that the team “ran hard on offense, which allowed us to get good looks.”

After leading by 12 at halftime, Bruno kept rolling through the second half until a Steven Spieth ’17 trey extended the lead to 50-26 with just 14 minutes to play. Then the wheels came off.

“They pressured the ball really well, which took us out of offense, and they forced a lot of turnovers,” said point guard Tavon Blackmon ’17.

It started with an 11-0 run, and Dartmouth continued to chip away until a 13-2 run capped by a layup from Taylor Johnson gave the Big Green its first lead of the game at 67-66. Blackmon responded with a bucket, but Malik Gill drained a three-pointer in the next possession to lift Dartmouth into the lead for good. Late free throws sealed the biggest comeback in the Ivy League this season.

In the game’s final 13 minutes, Dartmouth poured in 49 points and scored on 22 of its final 27 possessions. Bruno’s defense — which allows the highest number of points per game in the Ivy League, — hit a new low, as the Big Green shot 73 percent from the field in the last 13:24 behind 13 points from Gill and 12 from Connor Boehm.

Bruno’s offense did its part in the second half with 34 points — one shy of its first half total. Maia led the team with 19 points and 16 rebounds in his second-to-last game as a Bear, and Spieth and Kuakumensah flanked him with 11 points apiece.

“The main difference was defense,” Hobbie said.

Gill powered the Big Green comeback. Coming off the bench at 5-foot-9, he kept a low profile for much of the season until breaking out in the Big Green’s recent hot streak. The guard had 14 points in each of Dartmouth’s surprising road wins over Columbia and Cornell last weekend, and the offense ran through him during Friday’s comeback. He finished with a team high of 17 points.

Harvard (21-7, 11-3)

To their credit, the Bears did not carry the woes of Friday’s finish into Cambridge for the clash with powerhouse Harvard. Bruno jumped to an 18-11 lead and held a one-point edge at halftime. But Harvard, which had a putrid shooting night against Yale Friday, found its shooting form in the second half and hit 6-of-10 from beyond the arc to vault over the Bears.

The Crimson has been the toast of the Ivy League in recent years — it will play for its fifth consecutive league title in a one-game playoff against Yale next week — but Bruno has always played Harvard closely since Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 took over. Wesley Saunders, two-time Ivy Player of the Year, carried Harvard to a come-from-behind win at the Pizzitola Center earlier in the season, and point guard Siyani Chambers scored 15 second-half points to nip the Bears Saturday.

Kuakumensah took over the Bruno offense with a potent inside-and-outside attack. The forward showed off his touch with three treys, went down low for five more buckets and notched four at the line. Kuakumensah’s 23 points was a game high, nearly doubling Hobbie, the next highest-scoring Bear.

“I just went into the game with a lot of confidence,” Kuakumensah said. “I knew where I could pick my spots within the offense to be aggressive and my shots were falling so I tried to ride it out.”

A Maia layup gave Bruno a 34-30 lead two minutes into the second half, but over the course of the next six minutes, Saunders hit a trey and Chambers and Corbin Miller each drained two.

Harvard was just too deep in the second half for Bruno’s defense to contain. Saunders did not take over with points the way he did in the first meeting, scoring just 12. Instead, he dished out 10 assists to help two of his fellow seniors, Kenyatta Smith and Jonah Travis, score double-digits on their Senior Night. Steve Moundou-Missi also had a big game in his final regular season contest, grabbing 14 rebounds and notching eight points.

The Harvard lead ballooned to 59-41 midway through the second half. Blackmon scored eight points in the final 8:25, which helped the Bears narrow the gap to a respectable 10-point loss.

Getting swept in its final weekend of the year, much like in the rest of the season, was not what the Bears had hoped. Maia, whose 8.7 rebounds per game and 53.8 field goal percentage each led the conference, will leave a significant hole in the paint, but most of the roster will remain intact for next season.

“It was sad, because I think as a whole we all had higher expectations for the season,” Blackmon said. “But we are optimistic about the future.”