Sports

Promising start, disappointing end classify road double-header

Bruno follows convincing win versus Cornell with slow-start in Columbia loss over the weekend

By
Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, February 5, 2017

Team co-captain Tavon Blackmon ’17 dribbles the ball toward the opposing basket. Against Cornell Friday, Blackmon led all scorers with 17 points to carry Bruno above the Big Red in the Bears’ 81-70 win.

After a week’s worth of preparation following a tough defeat at Yale, the men’s basketball team looked to bounce back in pivotal conference matchups at Cornell Friday and Columbia Saturday. Against the Big Red (6-15, 2-4 Ivy), the Bears (11-11, 2-4) gained the early lead and never looked back, taking home a crucial 81-70 win. But Brown had a hard time rallying for their second matchup of the weekend, playing catch-up after falling behind 47-28 at the half against Columbia (10-9, 4-2). The game ended in a 83-78 loss.

Heading into the weekend, the Bears understood the importance of building momentum as increasingly demanding conference games stand between Brown and the inaugural four-team Ivy League Tournament.

“Energy going into Cornell was very high,” said starting forward Travis Fuller ’19. “We knew going in that these games were going to be a battle.”

Brown started strong from the tip-off, quickly asserting its offense during the first half. Bruno took a 19-16 lead with 7:44 remaining and only built on this margin as the half progressed. When the buzzer sounded for halftime, the Bears were on top 35-26. Starting guard and co-captain Tavon Blackmon ’17 contributed eight points — with back-to-back threes at 5:51 and 5:09.

“I was just being aggressive, picking my spots and just making shots,” Blackmon said. “The guys found me early and got my confidence going, and I just kept shooting.”

But Cornell would not lay down without a fight. The Big Red rallied hard to start the second half, scoring eight points in the first 1:15 to cut Brown’s lead to four. But a three-pointer from co-captain Steven Spieth ’17 and a pair of free throws from first-year Brandon Anderson ’20 put the Bears back on track.

Bruno built a comfortable eight-point lead with 14:57 remaining after a layup by Blackmon that put the Bears up 45-37. Brown held the lead for the remainder of the game, riding a constant stream of buckets from Blackmon, who finished with 17 points, his highest output in league play this season.

“Our team played with great energy throughout the game,” Fuller said. “We played really unselfish basketball, which led to open looks for our guys.”

But the job was not over for Bruno. That night, the Bears made a four-hour trip to New York to face Columbia the next day. Against the Lions, the script flipped. Just over five minutes in, the Bears found themselves down 14-8, and trailed 47-28 by the end of the first half.

“I don’t think the travel affected us,” Fuller said. “We had a good day of prep and had a solid warm-up. We just had a tough first half.”

Much of this difficulty lay in defending Columbia’s surging, hyper-productive offense. The Lions shot 63 percent on three-pointers, compared to just 21 percent from Brown.

“We just weren’t playing good offense against their zone,” Blackmon said. “It was the first time we had faced a zone in a long time this season, so I think that was an adjustment. Coach just told us to stick to the script, run our offense and defend, and we would get back in the game.”

Bruno did just that, clawing their way back to cut Columbia’s 21-point lead down to nine after a three by Corey Daugherty ’19 brought the score to 53-62 with 11:39 remaining.

The Bears’ comeback continued down the stretch. After Spieth sunk a pair of free throws with two minutes remaining, Columbia only held a four-point margin with a 77-73 lead. With Brown down five, Spieth missed a last-chance three with eight seconds remaining, ending Bruno’s comeback bid.

Despite the tough loss, Fuller remained positive. “The way we responded really showed a lot about our team,” he said. “We all are so competitive and want to win so badly that we weren’t just going to roll over. We fought back until the very end.”

Coming away with a weekend split, Bruno maintains its fifth place position in the Ivy League standings ahead of Dartmouth and Penn and tied with Cornell. But Brown still has eight games remaining in the regular season, with six of them coming at home. Capitalizing on this home court advantage will be pivotal if the Bears want to claim a spot in the post-season in pursuit of the team’s first conference crown since the 1985-86 season.

“We really have to buckle down on defense and have a good week of practice,” Blackmon said. “There (were) still a lot of things that we could have cleaned up, and that we will improve upon the next time we play.”

The Bears will host Harvard Friday at 7 p.m. and Dartmouth Saturday.

“Harvard has a good team, but we’ll be ready,” Fuller said.