As the weather grew bleak, so did the men's basketball team's fortunes. The Bears (6-13, 0-2 Ivy) played seven games over winter break, dropping six in a row before earning a victory Monday against Bryant.
"We've been in some pretty heated games," said Head Coach Jesse Agel. "We played two or three games where we had the lead in the last two or three minutes. Playing hard is one thing, but winning is another."
Bruno kicked off the break with four non-league matchups, falling to Maine 71-58, St. Francis 66-49, American 70-61 and Longwood 79-77.
The squad also opened Ivy League play over the break, falling to Yale (12-4, 2-0) on the road in a hard-fought matchup. The Bears held a six-point advantage with just over three minutes remaining, but the Bulldogs battled back to clinch the 68-64 victory.
"We had a great chance to win, up three at the end of the game, but we just weren't able to close the door," Agel said.
A week later, the Bulldogs traveled to the Pizzitola Center for a rematch. Yale had little trouble taking down the Bears the second time around, seizing a three-point lead at halftime and never trailing in the second half to come away with the 73-60 win.
"The first game, we caught them by surprise with a lot of our defenses," said co-captain Matt Sullivan '13. "They didn't know how to handle it, and we jumped on them at the beginning of the game. But then they got to go back and watch the film. We tried to come out with some new stuff in the second game, but they were a little bit more prepared for it."
The Bears were able to rally as a team Monday in their final non-conference matchup of the season against Bryant (2-18), earning a 67-60 victory. Stephen Albrecht '13 led the team with 21 points, as Sean McGonagill '14 and Andrew McCarthy '13 added 15 points apiece.
"It was a big win," Sullivan said. "Whenever you lose a couple in a row, it feels good to win. It helps everybody feel better and gain some confidence."
The Bears' struggles over break can be traced to a perfect storm of problems. The squad has been depleted by illness, injury and eligibility issues, forcing Agel to contend with an ever-changing roster as players enter and leave the line-up on a seemingly nightly basis.
"We still don't have back all of the bodies we could, but our kids are battling," Agel said. "We have had to persevere through some unfortunate injuries, but it's been great seeing some guys step up and fill roles."
The Bears have seen their numbers so slimmed that Agel accepted two walk-ons to the team: Tellef Lundevall '13 and Patrick Donnelly '13. Both are members of the football team — Lundevall a wide receiver, Donnelly a quarterback — with no experience in collegiate basketball. The duo has been quick to pick up the team's offensive and defensive schemes, and in the seven games over break, Lundevall averaged 15.8 minutes per game.
"We love having the football players on the team," Sullivan said. "They bring a lot of energy and a lot of toughness. They help our numbers in practice, and they are playing good minutes in the games."
"They've really provided us with a tremendous boost," Agel said. "It's extremely hard to come in to a Division I sport having not played that sport competitively. There are a lot of things that (the coaches) can't fine tune and just have to give the big picture, but they've acclimated pretty well."
Bruno will look to climb out of the bottom of the Ivy League standings this weekend as they reopen conference play, facing Dartmouth Friday at 7 p.m., before taking on No. 23 Harvard Saturday at 6 p.m.
For the Bears, it would be easy to concede the season and look ahead to next year when their roster returns to full strength. But Agel said the team has refused to give up.
"That's a long way down the road. Right now our concentration is on this weekend."