Sports

Consecutive losses to Elis mark 0-2 Ivy start for men’s basketball

Close non-conference losses mean little after blowout loss to Yale in Ivy home opener

By
Staff Writer
Friday, January 29, 2016

Steven Spieth ’17 dribbles past a University of Rhode Island defender during the 88-85 overtime loss on Nov. 30.

The men’s basketball team closed its non-conference schedule on a positive note, shaking off its early season struggles. But a formidable Yale (11-5, 2-0 Ivy) team dealt the Bears (5-11, 0-2 Ivy) back-to-back losses to open their conference slate.

Before running into the teeth of the mighty Bulldogs, the Bears had shown improvement against non-Ivy opponents. The team’s record stood at 3-6 heading into exams in December, with four of those losses coming by double-digits. But Head Coach Mike Martin seemed to have the team moving in the right direction in late December and early January. Bruno topped Bethune Cookman and Daniel Webster and lost hotly contested overtime games to Marist and a solid URI squad. A shootout in Maine also ended with the Bears on the wrong end of a back-and-forth, six-point game.

While narrow losses kept the Bears’ record from showing marked improvement, the offense had certainly turned a corner. The Bears picked up their scoring average from 72.6 points per game to 82 points per contest over the winter break.

The offense improved at the close of non-conference play despite Justin Massey’s decision to transfer back to Florida Atlantic midway through the season. Massey, who transferred to Brown to join his twin brother before the season, was averaging 9.2 points and three rebounds per game, and had scored 19 in a win over Bryant two games before his departure.

But point guard Tavon Blackmon ’17 said the team is sticking to its game plan even after Massey’s decision to leave the school.

“The offense hasn’t necessarily changed much,” Blackmon said, adding that the uneven performances have more to do with the team’s shooting ability.

Blackmon himself can take much credit for Bruno’s offensive surge late in non-conference play. Blackmon’s scoring production jumped from 8.5 points per game in November to 12.1 over the next two months. All the while, he continued to facilitate the offense, dishing out an Ivy League-best 5.1 assists per game.

A new addition has also bolstered the Bears attack — Obi Okolie ’19. The rookie sat out the beginning of the year with an injury but has made an impact since being cleared to play. When he plays at least 15 minutes, Okolie averages 11.2 points per contest.

The team’s improvement hit a wall with the arrival of league play and a home-and-home set with one of the conference’s best teams. Yale boasts a talented and experienced roster around Ivy League Player of the Year candidate Justin Sears.

The Bulldogs threw a mighty punch to open the first game, jumping to a 21-4 lead in New Haven. The resilient Bears trimmed the advantage to just four late in the first half. When Yale pushed the lead to double digits again after the intermission, a JR Hobbie ’17 trey cut it to five in the final minutes. But Yale kept the feisty Bears at bay to pick up the win in the Ivy opener.

The Elis packed a similar punch in the second meeting, but Bruno never punched back. Yale started to pull away midway through the first half, and Brown never came close after Yale’s crippling run. A 13-point halftime lead ballooned to 30 in the second half. Bad shooting, especially around the basket, sunk Bruno’s early energy and allowed the Bulldogs to cruise to a win.

“We just aren’t playing very efficient right now,” Blackmon said, blaming Brown’s poor shooting and crediting good scouting by Yale.

Despite two opening losses to Yale, the Bears have plenty of time to rebound from their dim start.

Hobbie said the mood in practice has been optimistic and upbeat. “We realize those last two games that we had done a lot of very good things,” he said. “We just have to keep positive attitudes.”

The Ivy League features a strong field this year, so the Bears will be tested once again this weekend against Princeton and Penn.