Sports

End-of-season losses put men’s basketball at bottom of Ivy League

Absence of Blackmon ’17 hurts in losses to Cornell, Columbia in final games of disappointing season

By
Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2016

Two narrow losses seem a fitting way to end a season full of almosts for the men’s basketball team. Columbia and Cornell each nipped Bruno (8-20, 3-11 Ivy) in the season’s final weekend.

A dramatic battle in the Big Apple Friday night finished 66-63 in Columbia’s (21-10, 10-4) favor after a missed layup attempt from Steven Spieth ’17 that would have given Bruno the lead with 4.4 seconds to play. A ferocious comeback attempt Saturday night saw the Bears come within two points of tying the game with seconds remaining, but the Big Red (10-18, 3-11) held on for a 75-71 win.

The outcomes might have looked different but for a sprained foot suffered by floor general Tavon Blackmon ’17 at practice Wednesday. The point guard, who is 10th in the conference in scoring and first in assists, missed both games with the minor injury.

With the winless weekend, Bruno’s season has come to an end. Cornell and Brown ended with identical Ivy records and split their two contests, so they share last place in the conference. Yale clinched the Ivy crown and a bid to the NCAA tournament Saturday night.

Columbia 66, Brown 63

While Yale and Princeton have duked it out for the Ivy title, Columbia has proven itself the uncontested third-best team behind the play of star point guard Maodo Lo.

Yet the shorthanded Bears managed to give the Lions a game in their own gym. While Bruno’s last lead came with 13 minutes to play, Columbia never pushed its advantage to more than five for the final seven minutes of nail-biting action.

After two free throws from Cedric Kuakumensah ’16 cut the lead to one with a minute to play, Jason Massey ’18 stripped the ball from Lo to give the Bears a possession for the win. Spieth drove strong but was unable to finish, and Columbia iced the game with a pair of free throws.

No player wearing a Brown uniform did more to keep the Lions from running away with the game than JR Hobbie ’17. Known around the league as a lethal three-point shooter, Hobbie backed up that reputation in a big way Friday. Hobbie hit back-to-back-to-back three-pointers to open the game and continued to hit them in crucial moments to keep the Bears nipping at the heels of the home squad. He finished his career night with seven treys and a personal best 23 points.

Hobbie’s big night was particularly valuable given the lack of depth for Bruno with Blackmon — the team leader in minutes played — off the floor. Only two Bears registered minutes off the bench, and Hobbie was one of only three to score in double digits. Two young Bears stepped up: Massey racked up 13 points off the bench while Obi Okolie ’19 continued his impressive rookie campaign with 13 points and eight rebounds.

Spieth’s miss in the final seconds concluded a long night for the junior, who scored just four points on 1-for-8 shooting from the floor.

Bruno’s defense was a large reason for its success. The Bears eliminated second-chance points — a problem area for the team all year — and forced Columbia into a slow-paced game.

But Lo showed why he is heralded as one of the best players in the league,  scoring 23 points and hitting four treys as part of the team’s strong 8-for-16 night from beyond the arc.

Cornell 75, Brown 71

The Big Red led the entire second half and even pushed the edge to 13 with 11 minutes to play, but Bruno’s starting five rallied. Okolie drained a three-pointer with four seconds to play that cut the lead to two, but a miracle was not in the cards.

The lack of depth bit Bruno again, as the team received zero scoring from bench players. The starters picked up the slack, though, with all five contributing double-digit totals.

Spieth made up for his lukewarm performance against Columbia with a huge game in Ithaca. The junior played 37 of the game’s 40 minutes and was seemingly in on every play. He filled up the stat sheet, notching a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds and even filling in for Blackmon’s absence in the assist column with seven dimes.

In his final game with the Bears, Kuakumensah was his vintage self. The senior poured in 21 points, scoring inside as well as hitting a couple of treys. He rounded out the double-double with 10 rebounds and added three blocks to his Ivy League record total of 311.

Cornell received the bulk of its production from Matt Morgan. The rookie took a lot of shots but racked up 25 points. For the second night in a row, the Bears struggled to defend the three-point line. The Big Red finished 9-for-18 from deep.

With the help of Spieth and Kuakumensah, Bruno dominated the boards 38-26. Keeping the Big Red from second-chance points again allowed Bruno to hang close, but the shot at the end didn’t go the Bears’ way.