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Full-court pressure, superior athleticism overwhelm Men's Basketball

Following season-opening win, Bruno drops games to Northwestern and Holy Cross

The men’s basketball team ran into tough competition in two non-conference losses this week. A talented Northwestern team led Bruno (1-2) the whole way en route to a 69-56 win Monday, and Holy Cross dealt the Bears an 80-65 defeat Wednesday behind the stellar play of the Crusaders’ backcourt.

The Big Ten conference is known for good basketball, and while Northwestern doesn’t usually contend for a league title, the Wildcats (2-0) proved that they are no slouch Monday night at the Pizzitola Center.

“I thought Northwestern was great,” said Head Coach Mike Martin ’04. “We had some stretches where we had good effort and good energy, but not as good as it needs to be against a team of that quality.”

The Wildcats raced to 19-9 advantage after nine minutes of play, with seven different players scoring the first eight Northwestern baskets. Experienced senior guard JerShon Cobb led the way with 16 points, but when foul trouble hampered some of Northwestern’s traditional weapons — including 7-foot center Alex Olah — some unlikely players stepped up.

Sophomore Sanjay Lumpkin turned in his best game as a Wildcat, posting a career-high 15 points and rounding out the double-double with 12 rebounds. Scottie Lindsey, a first-year used sparingly in the team’s first game, took advantage of some extra minutes with 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting.

“Lumpkin was tremendous,” said Northwestern Head Coach Chris Collins. “Scottie Lindsay, as a freshman coming off the bench, scored 10 big points and played great defense.”
The Bears could not find their offense for much of the game and needed a 10-2 run in the game’s final three minutes to keep it from a 20-point blowout. Foul trouble for forward Cedric Kuakumensah ’16 held him to just two points after a strong performance in last week’s opener. The junior was forced to sit for the last 12 minutes of the first half after picking up two fouls in 20 seconds.

Kuakumensah “never really got in the flow,” Martin said. “We’re a different team when he’s in the game. We need him to be our anchor defensively, and obviously he’s one of the best rebounders we have.”

With Kuakumensah out, Bruno was dominated on the boards, 39-25, and the Wildcats frequently converted second chances to build the lead.

Despite forcing Northwestern to commit 26 team fouls in the game, Bruno couldn’t capitalize — the Bears shot just 67 percent from the line, including 6-of-13 in the first half.

The sliver of offensive success the Bears did show came from J.R. Hobbie ’17, who was really the team’s only weapon in the first half, draining two three-pointers and adding an old-fashioned three-point play. Leland King ’17 led the team in scoring, but his 17-point effort came on an inefficient 6-of-15 shooting.

Collins said the Wildcats were able to contain the Bruno offense by cutting off point guard Tavon Blackmon ’17.

“I thought our defense on Blackmon was one of the keys to this win,” he said. “When he’s playing well, and you add the front line to his great play, they become very hard to stop.”

Blackmon had just two points and three assists and committed five costly turnovers.

Wednesday brought more of the same for Brown, who trailed most of the way against a strong Holy Cross team. The Crusaders opened the year by upsetting Harvard, the four-time defending Ivy champion and consensus favorite this year. Bruno fell victim to the same Holy Cross weapons that Harvard did: heavy pressure and tremendous guard play.

Anthony Thompson and Justin Burrell stand just 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-10, respectively, but their basketball skills far surpass their diminutive statures. The duo torched the Bears on both ends of the floor.

The success of the speedy backcourt comes from its high-pressure style, Hobbie said.

“They’re tough — they always play hard,” he said, adding that it seemed like most of their points came in transition or off turnovers.

Offensively, Thompson led the way in the first half with 10 points, knocking down two three-pointers and using his speed and athleticism to beat his man and lay it in around the Bruno bigs. Burrell came alive later, pouring in 10 of his 14 points during the second half.

As dangerous as the guards were with the basketball in their hands, they had an even greater impact on defense. The Holy Cross backcourt applied full-court pressure and harassed the Bears into 23 turnovers. Thompson and Burrell each set new career highs in steals. The Bears were ill-equipped to deal with the speedy defenders given the absence of starting point guard Blackmon, who could not play due to a concussion he suffered when an illegal screen was set on him against Northwestern.

After the Crusaders built a 15-point halftime lead, Bruno clawed back into it during the second half. Following Hobbie’s second trey of the game with 13:26 left to play, Bruno had cut the lead to seven. But Burrell promptly buried a triple to push the lead back to 10, and two Bruno turnovers later, Burrell’s driving lay-up made it 57-45 and quieted the Bears’ comeback.

Blackmon’s absence paved the way for three first-year guards to see extended court time.

Ty Williams ’18 made his first collegiate start, while Patrick Triplett ’18 and Jason Massey ’18 came off the bench. All three have shown athleticism on the defensive end this season, but the trio still needs to grow into offensive threats — Williams shot 2-of-6, Massey hit a lay-up in garbage time for his first college points and Triplett is still in search of his first bucket. It is far too early for judgment, though, as Bruno fans will remember King’s transformation last year. After averaging 5.3 points per game in his first three games as a Bear, his scoring jumped to 21 points per game in his last three of that same season.

“We have a lot of talented freshmen, but they have to get used to the college game,” Hobbie said of his five rookie teammates. “It’s a lot more physical, especially with the way Coach Martin demands so much from you on the defensive end.”

Through three games, cutting down on turnovers and “playing hard” are the keys for Bruno to turn the losses into wins, Hobbie said.

But the prognosis looks good for the Bears, who head to the Las Vegas Invitational this weekend. “With a couple tough practices, we can get back on track,” Hobbie said.

The Bears play Indiana State University (1-1) Saturday night to open the Invite. Blackmon passed the ImPACT test, which evaluates athletes with concussions, Thursday so Bruno will have its floor general back on the court Monday against the University of Illinois (2-0).

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