Sports

OT win highlights last home weekend for men’s basketball

Kuakumensah’s ’16 final games at Pizzitola end in win over Big Green, loss to Crimson

By
Staff Writer
Monday, February 29, 2016

Cedric Kuakumensah ’16 drives by a defender in his last home game. The senior holds the Ivy career blocks record, securing his place in team history.

Cedric Kuakumensah ’16 added a game-winning dunk to his list of impressive career accomplishments Friday when his slam vaulted the men’s basketball team ahead of Dartmouth (9-17, 3-9 Ivy) in the penultimate minute of overtime. But Saturday, his Senior Night ended on a sour note, as Harvard (12-16, 4-8) edged Bruno (8-18, 3-9) in a low-scoring affair.

Kuakumensah closed his illustrious career at the Pizzitola in style with a pair of double-doubles. Led by its three-year captain, Bruno closed its penultimate weekend with a 3-8 record in league play, tied for sixth in the top-heavy Ivy League. Dominant Yale and Princeton will fight for the title in the coming weeks while five of the league’s eight teams have losing records in conference.

Brown 84, Dartmouth 83

In what has become a frequent sight for Brown fans, Kuakumensah and Tavon Blackmon ’17 teamed up for a beautiful play that propelled the Bears over Dartmouth late in overtime. Kuakumensah snared an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Blackmon on the perimeter. The elusive point guard penetrated the lane and drew multiple Big Green defenders before dropping a nifty pass off to Kuakumensah, who threw it home.

Leading 84-83 after the dunk, Bruno kept Dartmouth off the scoreboard in the final 1:06 to secure its third Ivy win.

“I don’t think we played our best, but we overcame a lot,” said Head Coach Mike Martin ’04.

The Blackmon-to-Kuakumensah game-winner never would have happened were it not for their teammate JR Hobbie ’17. The sharpshooter was having a pretty ugly day, missing each of his three attempts and even air-balling one. But with the Bears trailing 75-72 with 20 seconds remaining in regulation, Martin sent Hobbie into the game.

A scramble in the game’s final play left Obi Okolie ’19 with the ball near the lane. Hobbie alertly slid from the top of the key to the left wing, where Okolie found him with a pass. A defender closed fast, so Hobbie was forced to shoot off-balance. But the ball found the bottom of the net, sending the crowd into a frenzy and the game into overtime.

“We made a lot of big plays – none bigger than JR’s shot,” Martin said.

Aside from Hobbie’s key three-pointer and Kuakumensah’s dunk, much of the second-half and overtime scoring came from the free throw line. Quick whistles and success at the charity stripe helped Dartmouth keep close during Bruno’s second-half run, but the free throw line became the Bears’ ally in overtime, accounting for seven of the team’s nine points in the period.

Brown had led much of the second half, even pushing the advantage to 11 with nine minutes to play. But the Big Green shot 6-for-6 in the game’s final five minutes to take a short-lived lead before Hobbie’s heroics.

With locker-room speeches from Kuakumensah, the Bears came out firing on all cylinders to start each half. A 10-0 run to open the game and a 9-0 spurt to start the second half helped Bruno to the lead it carried through much of the final 20 minutes. The first half belonged to Dartmouth, after it countered Bruno’s opening run with an 18-2 streak of its own.

Martin attributed the victory to defensive rebounding, particularly keeping the Big Green to just two second-chance points after allowing them to amass 16 in Hanover two weeks ago.

“Last time we played these guys, they killed us on the boards,” Kuakumensah said. “The past two weeks in practice we have been focusing on box outs … and everyone has been contributing.”

Steven Spieth ’17 managed to lead all scorers with 21 points despite fouling out of the game with 3:31 to play in regulation. With his brother, world No. 1 ranked golfer Jordan Spieth, in attendance, Spieth opened the game red hot, going 4-for-4 from beyond the arc.

“I went into the game trying to be aggressive,” Spieth said. “It helps to make the first couple.”

Blackmon finished his night with an impressive line — 19 points and seven assists — and Kuakumensah’s 17 points and 11 rebounds marked his 11th double-double of the year.

Harvard 61, Brown 52

The Crimson led wire to wire Saturday night, closing out the win and leaving Kuakumensah 0-8 in his four years against the conference rival.

The night started with a celebration of Kuakumensah and fellow senior Joe Sharkey ’16. Sharkey missed the last three seasons with injuries suffered from a punch to the back of the head that put him in a coma and in the hospital for almost two months, but he has remained a committed member of the program.

It took the announcer a while to get through the long list of Kuakumensah’s accomplishments. He will graduate with the 19th-most points and fourth-most rebounds in Brown history as well as, of course, the most blocks of anyone to don an Ivy jersey.

Kuakumensah scored Bruno’s first points of the night on a strong post move and did his part the whole contest. The captain finished his senior night with 19 points, 14 rebounds and a block.

But unfortunately for the Bears, the rest of the team had all kinds of trouble putting the ball through the net. Three starters — Okolie, Spieth and Kyle Haber ’18 — combined to shoot a staggering 0-for-19 from the floor. The team combined to shoot 30.9 percent from the floor, its lowest mark since a Dec. 7 contest at Georgetown.

“The ball didn’t go in the basket,” Martin said. The “shots were pretty good … We have guys that are good shooters, and they just didn’t make shots.”

Despite the putrid shooting performance, the Bears remained in the game with solid defense. Harvard’s Corey Johnson came out red hot with two three-pointers to open the game and four total in the first half. Brown forced him into a low percentage after the early minutes, but he still managed to rack up a game-high 24 points.

Bruno closed an early 15-point deficit to seven at the halfway point, and a Kuakumensah offensive board and put-back cut it to five to open the second half, but Harvard managed to inch away as the Bears struggled to score.

Any comeback attempt was thwarted by Bruno’s inability to convert. Even the Bears’ trusty friend, the free-throw line, abandoned them. Over the course of three minutes in the middle of the second half, Bruno clanged six consecutive free throws that could have cut the lead to five again.

Late in the game, Harvard’s Agunwa Okolie — older brother of Bruno’s Obi — started snatching up offensive rebounds left and right. Harvard had multiple possessions of over a minute thanks to extra chances. Agunwa finished with a career-high 19 rebounds, and Harvard dominated the glass 49-34.

“We gave them too many possessions in offensive rebounds,” Martin said.

Bruno has one more weekend to wash the taste of its Senior Night struggles out of its mouth. The Bears travel to the Big Apple for a matchup with Columbia Friday before heading north Saturday to face Cornell in a game that could decide which team will finish last in the conference.