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Early efforts erased with Peacocks’ late surge

Peacocks go on 28-9 run in last nine minutes of contest to overtake Bears, secure victory in season opener

Season openers can operate as a barometer for a team’s development, revealing the parts of the game that need the most work. After a 77-65 season-opening loss Friday night at St. Peter’s, the problem area for the men’s basketball team was pretty clear: the final eight minutes.

The Bears (0-1) played a sound first 32 minutes, opening a nine-point lead and looking poised to pull away for a second consecutive season-christening win over the Peacocks (1-0). But in the final 8:47, St. Peter’s used a 28-9 run to vault over the Bears for the victory.

“We just have to finish the game,” said guard Tavon Blackmon ’17.

Bruno put together a run of its own midway through the second half to break up what had been a very tight game through the opening 20 minutes. In a four-possession stretch, J.R. Hobbie ’17 cashed two treys, Corey Daugherty ’19 splashed another and Cedric Kuakumensah ’16 hit two free throws. The streak turned a 40-40 tie into a 51-42 Brown lead. But then the wheels came off.

While fatigue, rust or inexperience may have contributed to the late collapse, the primary ingredient of the Peacock surge was Antwon Portley. The first-year guard’s collegiate debut was nothing short of miraculous.

For a six-and-a-half minute stretch in the middle of the second half, Portley was St. Peter’s only offense, scoring 10 consecutive points to keep the Bears from running away. He poured in 23 of his game-high 30 points in the final 20 minutes and hit a huge three to tie the game at 58 before the Peacocks took the lead.

Fans have a hard time predicting what is going to happen in season openers, and Friday included a number of surprises — Portley being the most prominent. Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 went deep into his bench to get an idea of who would be rotational players this year. Ten Bears saw the floor, and eight played 10 minutes or more.

Martin described his team as fast-paced and unselfish, and the first half confirmed his observations. Quick passing facilitated balanced scoring, as eight different players chipped in points while none scored more than six. Twins Justin Massey ’18 and Jason Massey ’18 were relative surprises to the starting lineup but scored six and five points, respectively.

The second-half offense looked a little more stagnant, as Martin relied heavily on returning starters Blackmon, Kuakumensah and Steven Spieth ’17. The Masseys combined for just two points, and Blackmon and Spieth each had eight points to lead Bruno in the second half.

The Bears’ lack of size was a worry entering the game, but Kuakumensah picked up the tab for his smaller teammates. The captain and forward secured 17 rebounds — 11 in the first half — as part of his double-double. Offensive rebounds gave St. Peter’s an edge in the first half, leading to seven more second-chance points than the Bears had.

But the Bears’ offense was less to blame for the second-half slide than the Peacocks’ offense. St. Peter’s found its range to shoot 51.5 percent in the second half after hitting just 29.4 percent of its shots in the first.

A surprising area of production was the rookie class, particularly Daugherty and Travis Fuller ’19. Daugherty notched eight points, two assists and three steals in his debut, running the point and off-guard at times and proving his worth as a ball-handler. He hit two three pointers but shot a lukewarm 3-for-10 from the floor.

Fuller used his height and vertical to grab four rebounds. He blocked a pair of shots and even flashed some court vision with two assists in limited action.

Blackmon said the offense felt comfortable with the new additions, adding that “they adjusted well.”

Though Martin had cited three-point shooting as a strength for his team entering the season, the touch was absent in game one. The three returning starters — Blackmon, Kuakumensah and Spieth — shot a combined 0-11 from beyond the arc, and the team struggled to a paltry 21 percent from long range.

Glimpses of a winning team appeared throughout the game, with the returning starters teaming up with budding producers, but the offense lacked punch.

The Bears will have a chance to put the opening loss in the rearview mirror Monday with a game against Holy Cross at the Pizzitola Center.



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