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Men's basketball hits the road in pursuit of top seed

Win against Harvard would land Bears atop Ancient Eight, quelling talks of Crimson domination

Riding a three-game winning streak, the Bears enter their toughest weekend of conference play this season. Bruno will compete for first place in the Ivy League against Harvard Friday in the Lavietes Pavilion — where the Crimson hold a 19-game home winning streak, the nation’s 6th longest — before traveling to Hanover to take on Dartmouth Saturday.

Harvard (17-3, Ivy 4-0) is no stranger to the top of the Ivy standings — the Crimson have reached 4-0 in league play for each of the last four seasons. Dartmouth (9-9, 2-2), a surprise contender this season, has already knocked off traditional powerhouses Penn and Princeton.

“These are going to be really big games,” said Steven Spieth ’17. “Every game is a championship game in the Ivy League. We’re going to play good defense, knock down some shots, and I think we’ll have a good chance to beat both of these teams.”

The Bears (11-7, 3-1) are coming off an impressive weekend, having toppled Cornell and Columbia on back-to-back nights. Spieth accompanied a career-high 18 points against Cornell with a leading role on the team’s defense, which helped last weekend’s opponents to 20 percent from beyond the arc.

“(Spieth) is playing a ton of minutes,” said Head Coach Mike Martin ’04. “We ask him to guard the other team’s best player most nights. He’s really versatile, and he does a lot of things to help us win.”

Spieth, the reigning Ivy Rookie of the Week, will have his hands full, as he matches up with Harvard’s Wesley Saunders, a contender for Ivy Player of the Year.

Saunders nets 15.2 per game — the 5th best average in the conference — and shoots a stellar 79 percent from the free throw line. He also contributes 5.2 boards, 3.9 assists and a league-leading 2.2 steals per game.

Last weekend against Princeton, Saunders notched 24 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three steals, leading the team in all four categories. No Harvard player had accomplished that feat since NBA-star Jeremy Lin did so over five years ago.

“He’s a lock for first team all-conference,” said Spieth. “I have a tough task, but I’m feeling up to it and hopefully I can try to shut him down.”

In addition to trying to keep Saunders and other scoring threats in check, Bruno will be tested on the boards. Harvard and Dartmouth rank second and third in offensive rebounding, while the Bears have pulled down a league-leading 40.4 total rebounds per game — good for 15th in the nation.

Dartmouth relies on their center Gabas Maldunas — who is tied with Rafael Maia ’15 for the most rebounds in the conference at 8.5 per game — to create second chance opportunities. Harvard employs a rebounding-by-committee style, with three players averaging over five boards per game.

“These games are going to be decided by rebounding this weekend,” Spieth said. “(Harvard and Dartmouth) are really strong offensive rebounders, so we have to box out. We have to limit them to one shot per possession.”

Spieth echoed Martin’s philosophy of contesting every shot on defense but noted that even the best defensive possession is a waste of effort if the team doesn’t box out and allows second-chance points. Spieth added that winning the rebounding battle is a goal for the team in every game they play.

The Bears have successfully out-rebounded opponents in 12 of their 18 games this season. By consistently winning the battle on the boards, the Bears have been able to limit teams to single shot attempts on most possessions. This edge allows Bruno to pull away from opponents early and sit on the lead for the majority of the game.

Of the squad’s 11 wins this season, just three have come by less than ten points. The Bears would like to continue to avoid down-to-the-wire games in which free-throw shooting becomes essential to victory. Brown has earned the worst free-throw shooting percentage in the league ­— about 64 percent — while Harvard excels from the charity stripe, hitting nearly 75 percent of their shots.

“We certainly work on (free throws) every day,” Martin said. “We do have a few guys that we would feel very confidently about shooting late game pressure free throws. … It’s our job as a coaching staff to make sure those guys have the ball in the their hands late in the game.”

Martin is referencing co-captains Cedric Kuakumensah ’16 and Sean McGonagill ’14, the team’s two best free-throw shooters. If the games this weekend are decided by a few points, look for McGonagill and Kuakumensah to touch the ball frequently in the closing minutes.

Despite poor free-throw shooting, the Bears have one of the better offenses in the league, averaging the third-most points per game and featuring a dominant inside attack that contributes 52 percent of the team’s points from the field in league play.

“We have the best offensive game inside the paint in the Ivy League,” Spieth said. “We’re going to play unselfish and try to impose ourselves in the post. We’ll get the ball down low, play inside-out, free-up shooters and knock down some shots on the outside. … It’s going to be a fun weekend.”


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