The men's basketball team opened its season on the road Friday, defeating Fordham, 69-65, in a hard-fought battle. The ability of the young Bruno squad (1-0), which features four seniors and nine underclassmen, to win its first game of the year against a tough Atlantic 10 team provides a lot of momentum for the rest of the season.
"When you play an Atlantic 10 team, the way it's drawn up, no matter what, you're not supposed to go win the game," said Head Coach Jesse Agel. "We try to win every game, but in terms of setting up the rest of the year, if it hadn't happened it wouldn't have affected us. But it certainly gives us a lot of confidence that we were able to get it."
The Bears were led by co-captain forward Peter Sullivan '11, one of only four players in Brown history to score over 1,000 points before entering his senior year. Sullivan scored 17 points against the Rams (0-1), including five of six clutch free throws in the final 25 seconds of the game. Sullivan's 17 points vaulted him to 20th place on the all-time scoring list with 1,053 career points.
Despite Sullivan's performance, the matchup against the Rams was a battle. Though Bruno built a 40-27 lead at halftime, Fordham clawed its way back and took a one-point lead with about five minutes to play. Forward Tucker Halpern '13 scored five consecutive points to regain the lead with just over three minutes to play. With a precarious two-point lead in the final minutes, Sullivan stepped up to hit the clutch free throws to put the game out of reach.
The young team fended off the Rams' second-half push and persevered, demonstrating its character in the season opener. Sullivan said he was pleased that the team was able to withstand a comeback effort that might have derailed the Bears in recently past seasons.
"We definitely showed signs of maturity and signs of improving that we were able to hold off a good run, especially being on the road in a crowded gym," he said.
Bruno saw strong performances from forward Andrew McCarthy '13, who was the second-leading scorer with 11 points, and Halpern, who contributed 10 points, all in the second half. In his collegiate debut, guard Sean McGonagill '14 added an impressive nine points, six assists and five rebounds. Veteran guards Garrett Leffelman '11 and co-captain Adrian Williams '11 added eight points apiece and Leffelman led the team with seven rebounds.
"We had a real balanced attack," Sullivan said. "We got a lot of positive things from a lot of different guys."
After a tough matchup, Bruno has little time to rest before the players travel across town to face the University of Rhode Island on Tuesday, a squad Agel calls "one of the elite teams in the country." By taking on two talented Atlantic 10 teams in the beginning of the season, Agel said he hopes his squad will be adequately prepared for the challenges it will face later in the year in the Ivy League.
"You use your out-of-conference schedule for many different things in college basketball," Agel said. "(These teams) are extremely challenging, so when you face people in your league or you face people on other teams, you won't see somebody who's way better athletically or way better than these divisions."
The victory over Fordham has boosted the team's confidence, and Sullivan said he feels they are prepared for the challenge posed by URI.
"They're tough, probably one of the best teams, if not the best team, we are going to play all year," he said. "We're going to be on the road and they have good home court advantage, so it's going to be a tough game, but I think we've proved that we can win on the road in a tough environment."