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Men's basketball faces must-win weekend at home

Bruno will rely on young talent to play lock-down defense against potent Tigers and Quakers

At the midpoint of the Ivy League schedule, the third-place Bears find themselves in the midst of a highly competitive race for the conference title. This weekend they play host to Penn and Princeton, two teams fighting to stay afloat.

Last weekend, Bruno (12-8, Ivy 4-2) fought for the full 40 minutes, but ultimately fell to Harvard (18-4, 5-1), before squashing Dartmouth (9-11, 2-4) the next day. Princeton (13-6, 1-4) picked up their first Ivy win last weekend, while Penn (6-13, 3-2) swept their pair of home games against Cornell and Columbia.

The Quakers and Tigers enter the weekend ranked number one and two in assists per game. Princeton’s T.J. Bray consistently sets his teammates up, averaging 5.5 dimes a game — the best mark in the conference. Bray is also the league’s second highest scorer, behind Bruno’s own Sean McGonagill ’14.

“We know (Bray) is one of the better players in the league,” said co-captain Cedric Kuakumensah ’16. “But they have a lot of weapons on offense. We need whoever is guarding (Bray) to stay with him, because the other guys on the floor can’t leave their men — (Bray) will find a way to get the ball to them.”

The Bears’ defense will be put to the test against the Tigers, which boast the highest scoring offense in the Ancient Eight. Bray, along with forwards Hans Brase and Will Barrett, each average over ten points per game. Princeton’s top five scorers all net at least seven points per game.

Penn can also hold its own on the offensive end. Big men Fran Dougherty — reigning co-Ivy Player of the Week — and Darien Nelson-Henry have posted the first and third highest field goal percentages in the league, contributing to the Quakers’ overall 45.3 percent from the field, the second best mark in the conference. Tony Hicks leads Penn with 15.3 points per game, while Miles Jackson-Cartwright provides consistency and potency from beyond the arc. Jackson-Cartwright is third all-time among active Ivy players in three-pointers made, trailing McGonagill and Harvard’s Laurent Rivard.

With both teams brimming with offensive talent, the Bears cannot afford to give up second-chance opportunities. Against Harvard, Bruno was outscored 18-6 in second-chance points, a difference that cost them the game.

“We just have to be more aggressive on the boards,” Kuakumensah said. “Both teams have a lot of length. They’re big teams, and they have guys that crash the boards hard. We have to put a body on every single player, from point guard to center, because they can all attack the glass.”

Kuakumensah reiterated Head Coach Mike Martin’s ’04 mantras of finishing possessions, quick rotations and help defense. He also stressed the importance of every player commitming on the defensive end, no matter their defensive assignment.

Three-time Ivy Rookie of the Week Steven Spieth ’17 draws the most intriguing matchup, as he assumes responsibility for keeping Bray in check. Spieth held Crimson star Wesley Saunders to six points on 2-13 shooting last weekend.

“Spieth has been playing really well,” Kuakumensah said. “He does a little bit of everything for us — he rebounds, scores, plays really solid defense. He does it all.”

But when Spieth exits the game due to rest or foul trouble, Matty Madigan ’17 often steps up to fill the role of “lock-down defender.”

“(Madigan) is one of our best perimeter defenders,” Kuakumensah said.

Against Harvard, Madigan replaced Spieth for much of the first half, after Spieth picked up two quick fouls. In the 12 minutes that Madigan played in the half, Saunders missed all three of his shot attempts and committed two turnovers. If Spieth gets into more foul trouble this weekend, expect to see Madigan come off the bench and match up with the opponent’s best player.

If Madigan or Spieth ever lose track of their men, they have the league’s premier rim-protector in Kuakumensah, who can always bail the Bears out with a block. The sophomore is already the 20th most prolific shot-swatter in league history and is on pace to break the all-time Ivy record by his senior year.

“I just try to back my teammates up,” Kuakumensah said. “If they get beat, they know I’m going to be there to help them out in the paint, the same way I know that if I get beat, someone is going to be there to cover me.”

The Bears will need Madigan, Spieth and Kuakumensah to be in top form against these two high-octane offenses. Bruno has yet to drop a conference game at home, and to remain in contention with Harvard and Yale (11-9, 5-1), the Bears will have to sweep their doubleheader in the Pizzitola Center this weekend.

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