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Men's basketball shows improvement in Thanksgiving wins

Bears split four games over break, beating JWU and Prairie View and hanging close with Illinois

After a lackluster start to their season, the men’s basketball team may have finally turned the corner. Following their 78-66 loss to Indiana State (3-3) just over a week ago, the Bears have gone 2-2, highlighted by a competitive showing against Big-Ten Illinois at the Las Vegas Invitational Monday and a comfortable victory over an athletic Johnson and Wales Sunday.

Though ultimately falling to Illinois 89-68, Bruno (3-5) played perhaps its best half of basketball of the season in the opening 20 minutes of the game. The team held Illinois — which had scored over 100 points in each of its last two games — to just 31 points and barely over 30 percent shooting in the half, allowing the Bears to take a 35-31 lead into intermission.

But in the second half, the Fighting Illini (6-0) dropped 58 points on an astronomical 73 percent shooting from the field and proved why they have arguably the best offense in the country. The three-pointers and long jump shots that the team was missing in the first half started to fall in the second, as Illinois pulled away from the Bears after a closely-contested opening 20 minutes.

Illinois managed to contain Bruno’s offensive dynamo, Leland King ’17, who only notched seven points on 3-of-9 shooting. Steven Spieth ’17 carried the Bears with a career-high 21 points, in conjunction with seven rebounds and three assists.

Just three days later, the Bears returned to action against Austin Peay (2-5) in their third game of the Las Vegas Invitational. Bruno held a 38-33 halftime advantage, but the Governors opened the second half on a 12-minute 31-8 run that gave them an insurmountable 64-46 lead. Ultimately the Bears fell 79-58.

King put on an efficient and prolific performance, netting 20 points on a 9-of-15 line from the field, but the rest of the Bears’ offense struggled, particularly from beyond the arc — the team shot a lowly 25 percent. J.R. Hobbie ’17, Bruno’s resident sharpshooter, made just one of his five attempts from deep. The Bears were also held to a season-low four offensive rebounds, as Austin Peay did well to limit Bruno’s second-chance opportunities.

In their first back-to-back of the season, the Bears turned around and matched up with Prairie View A&M (0-6) in the final leg of the team’s Las Vegas trip. The game was tight at halftime, but Bruno busted open a 17-point lead midway through the second half, coasting to a comfortable 81-71 win over the Panthers.

The team displayed a balanced offensive game, with four players — King, Spieth, Hobbie and co-captain Rafael Maia ’15 — scoring double-digit points. Prairie View was led by guard Tre Hagood, who poured in 23 points on the night.

The Panthers shot an abysmal 43 percent from the charity stripe, while the Bears knocked down 19-of-23 from the line. Hobbie returned to form from beyond the arc against Prairie View, hitting 4-of-6 deep balls.

King played the sixth-man role against the Panthers, coming off the bench and providing instant offense. He netted a team-high 17 points on yet another methodical night from the floor. Over the four-game tournament, King averaged 17.3 points and 8.3 boards and was named to the Las Vegas Invitational All-Tournament team.

The week-long road trip finally came to a close Sunday, when the team returned home to face Johnson and Wales (3-1). Bruno scored the first basket of the game and never looked back, leading wire-to-wire and winning 75-65.

The Bears took a 39-31 lead into halftime on the strength of Maia’s eight points and eight boards in the opening 20 minutes. The Brazilian center logged his best game of the season against the Wildcats, posting 12 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Just two minutes into the second half, Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 made a hockey-style line change, subbing off all five of his starters at the same time. After the game, Martin said that he was unhappy with his team’s lack of effort at the start of the second half and needed to send a message, though he was unhappy that he had to make the wholesale substitution in the first place.

“I don’t think I should have to do that for these guys to get the message,” Martin said. “They know how important energy is for our program. (Maia) is pretty consistent with it. Sometimes, it looked like he was battling four or five blue jerseys for rebounds, and that’s unacceptable.”

The Wildcats hung around for much of the second half, never letting Bruno pull comfortably ahead. Guard Tom Garrick scored a game-high 29 points and was constantly attacking the lane and drawing fouls.

“Johnson and Wales deserves a ton of credit,” Martin said. “They play hard and with confidence.”

But the Wildcats could not get anything else cooking on offense — the next-highest scorer was Quarry Greenway, who netted 11 points on a rough 4-of-13 shooting. The team missed tons of layups, and had Garrick not pulled down five offensive rebounds, the Bears would have won by a larger margin.

Despite having four players score 10 or more points for the second game in a row, Martin was bothered by the number of turnovers the team committed. The Bears coughed up the ball 20 times, marking the third game in a row and the fifth in the last six games with 20 or more turnovers.

“There’s a pattern right now of us turning the ball over way too much,” Martin said. “It led to easy run outs for them.”
“We didn’t play our best game, but the most important thing is that we got the win,” Maia said. “It was a learning experience and a good challenge. I’m sure we’re all going to learn from this.”

After playing eight games in 16 days, the Bears will have a few days to recuperate, practice and prepare for their meeting with American University (4-3) Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Pizzitola Center.


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