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Breaking down Bruno: Men’s basketball slips in standings

Bruno plagued by poor interior defense, an area the team must improve to make a run at the Ivy League title

Entering the latter half of the Ivy League season, the men’s basketball team sits precariously in the top half of the standings. This weekend, the team lost a heartbreaker to a struggling Princeton squad 69-65, but battled back to earn a win against Penn 62-55.

Here’s a breakdown of the Bears’ performances and keys to their success for the remainder of the schedule.


What’s strong

The Bears (13-9, 5-3 Ivy) suffocated Princeton (14-7, 2-5) and Penn (6-15, 3-4) on the perimeter, holding them to a combined 4-of-30 shooting from beyond the arc.

Princeton, the most trigger-happy team from three-point land in the conference with over 26 attempted treys per game, shot 17.6 percent from beyond the arc. On the other end of the spectrum are the Quakers, who shoot the second-fewest number of treys per game in the Ivy League. Bruno stifled Penn, forcing the team into an atrocious 7.7 percent conversion rate.

The team emphasized contesting shots and bothering shooters on the perimeter all week in practice, said Head Coach Mike Martin ’04. Denying open looks at the basket has been a centerpiece of Martin’s defensive philosophy since day one.

The second-year head coach’s philosophy has proven to be effective. The Bears currently have the nation’s best three-point defense, holding opposing teams to just 26.7 percent shooting from deep.

Bruno also proved this weekend that co-captain Sean McGonagill ’14 is not the team’s only scoring threat. Rafael Maia ’15 and Leland King ’17 both notched double-digit point totals against Princeton. The next night, Cedric Kuakumensah ’16 led the team with 18 points, while Steven Spieth ’17 netted 12.

While McGonagill was able to drop 16 and 15 points against the Tigers and Quakers, respectively, other teams have proven it is possible to slow down one of the best scorers to ever wear a Brown uniform. Earlier this season, Harvard (20-4, 7-1) limited McGonagill to eight points on a rough 2-of-11 performance from the field, one game after he was held to 10 points by Columbia (15-10, 4-4).

Bruno’s balanced scoring attack this weekend bodes well for its future success — not only for the remainder of the season, but also in years to come, as McGonagill graduates at the end of this year.


What’s wrong

While the Bears did an exceptional job of chasing Penn and Princeton off the three-point line, they allowed too many buckets inside — 82 of the 124 points Bruno surrendered came in the paint this weekend.

Bruno’s interior defense is usually stronger than this weekend’s games would indicate — on average, the Bears allow 44 percent of Ivy opponents’ total scoring in the paint. Nearly two-thirds of Penn and Princeton’s scoring came down low.

“We have some pretty physical frontline defenders,” Martin said. “But (Princeton) has five guys who could all dribble, pass and shoot, so they’re very hard to guard. We emphasized defending the three, and to their credit, they took advantage of that and took the ball to the rim.”

Bruno gave up layups off pick-and-rolls, back-door cuts, post shots and even a couple lobs, all of which were easily converted at the rim by Princeton and Penn. The Bears will need to tighten up their defense inside and continue to force teams to take contested shots away from the basket, as they have done all year.


What’s new

For just the second time this season, Bruno was out-rebounded in two consecutive games. Over two months ago, Brown was beaten on the glass by American University (15-10, 11-3 Patriot) and University of Albany (13-13, 7-6 American East) in back-to-back games. Princeton manhandled Brown on the boards this weekend, holding the Bears to their lowest total rebounds all season, 27.

“We could have done a better job of going to the offensive glass,” Martin said. Princeton “didn’t miss many shots, so we didn’t have many chances for defensive rebounds either.”

The Bears are the fourth-best defensive rebounding team in the country, averaging 28.8 per game. But their two-game average of 20 boards against Penn and Princeton would rank them 339th on the national rebounding leaderboard, just seven spots above the very bottom of the table.

Bruno will need to ratchet up its intensity and aggressiveness on the glass to win games in the future.

While the Bears underperformed on the boards, they exceeded expectations from the free throw line. Bruno shot 30-of-40 at the charity stripe, 10 percentage points higher than its season average.

In the last two minutes of both games combined, the Bears converted 12 of their 14 opportunities from the line. One of those misses was intentional, as King attempted to throw the ball off the rim to create an offensive rebound opportunity.

Clutch free throw shooting kept Bruno in the game against Princeton and sealed its victory over Penn. Hitting free throws consistently can change the outcome of games and could give the Bears the advantage they need to keep winning.


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