On a night that the men’s basketball team recognized the shot-blocking prowess of its captain Cedric Kuakumensah ’16, it was Bruno’s sizzling shooting that stole the show. The Bears put up their best three-point shooting percentage of the season in a back-and-forth 89-83 win over Penn. The win helped wash away the taste of a blowout loss to Princeton Friday, 83-59.
The split weekend at home lifts the Bears out of the Ivy League cellar with a 1-3 conference record. Princeton fell to Yale Saturday to drop out of a tie for the league’s top spot, while Penn remains the Ivy’s final winless team in conference play.
Princeton 83, Brown 59
The Tigers (12-5, 2-1 Ivy) hit the Bears in the mouth from the tip and never let up.
Spencer Weisz knocked down a three-pointer on Princeton’s opening possession and splashed another one minute later. After the first eight minutes, Princeton led by double digits, and it stayed that way for the remainder of the contest.
“You have to start with the amount of turnovers we had on offense, which led to easy baskets for Princeton,” said Head Coach Mike Martin ’04.
Bruno’s inefficiencies on the offensive end were glaring in the first half. The Bears coughed up 10 turnovers and allowed three offensive rebounds in the first stanza, leading to 14 more shot attempts for the visitors. The lead had climbed to 16 by the halfway point.
The only momentum the Bears could muster came when Steven Spieth ’17 and J.R. Hobbie ’17 hit back-to-back three-pointers to open the second half. But the run quickly gave way to a 9-0 Tigers spurt to put the game out of reach.
Princeton used terrific ball movement to get open looks around the basket all night long. Not only did the Tigers dominate the battle of points in the paint, 46-24, but they drew fouls and converted at the line. Princeton’s 20-22 mark at the charity stripe kept any comeback attempt at bay.
Spieth was the only shining spot in the cloudy Bears’ performance. The junior forward went a perfect 7-for-7 from the field and added a 9-for-10 mark from the line to finish with 24 points, more than three times the output of any of his teammates. Starters not named Spieth shot a combined 2-for-13.
An optimistic Martin said after the game that the Bears had looked much better in practice than they showed Friday. The team showed it the following night.
Brown 89, Penn 83
Kuakumensah and point guard Tavon Blackmon ’17 combined to put on a show from beyond the arc, knocking down nine of 10 treys and fueling the offense in what turned into a shootout against the Quakers (6-11, 0-3).
“Yesterday I didn’t have a good game. I didn’t even score,” Kuakumensah said of the Princeton game. “But all last night and this morning, my teammates and coaches were telling me to be confident and aggressive. I just tried to do exactly that.”
Early on, the senior captain carried the load. Kuakumensah drained a three-pointer to give Bruno an early edge, hit another a minute later and then splashed one more before the first media timeout four minutes into the game.
The Bears hopped to an early 14-5 lead. But Bruno was not the only team that flashed some range, and the Quakers caught fire after Kuakumensah’s early success. Three-pointers in consecutive possessions pulled the visitors back into it, and the squads traded blows for the rest of the first half. At the midpoint, Bruno clung to a 46-45 lead while each team had shot an impressive 8-for-14 from beyond the arc.
“They are a really tough team to guard,” Martin said. “They present a lot of issues because they have guys that can space the floor, so when they are making shots, they’re a good team.”
The Quakers were without their talented center Darien Nelson-Henry, who sat out the contest with an ankle injury. But they made up for the absence down low with perimeter shooting, hitting 49 percent of their treys, a 19 percent improvement on their season average.
Penn seized a six-point lead early in the second half, but it was soon time for the Kuakumensah show again. Blackmon found the captain for a layup to cut the lead to four, and on the next possession, Kuakumensah did the rest of the work. His long three-pointer from the top of the key rattled home despite a foul. Kuakumensah stepped to the line, completed the rare four-point play and closed the last lead Penn would have until the final minutes.
With three minutes remaining, Penn’s Max Rothschild made a short jumper to give his team an 81-80 lead, but it lasted only as long as it took Corey Daugherty ’19 to run the length of the floor. The rookie sliced through the defense for a quick layup, and after Spieth followed him with another crucial layup on the next possession, the Bruno lead was safe.
“I was proud of how we responded to a disappointing night last night,” Martin said.
While Kuakumensah’s performance jumped off the stat sheet, it was Blackmon’s play that facilitated the offensive explosion. The point guard’s 23 points came on 4-of-4 shooting from long range and a number of nifty moves to the basket. Beyond that, he completed the double-double with a career-best 10 assists.
The double-digit dimes were a milestone Blackmon had been aiming for since he arrived on campus as a first-year, and he said feeding his teammates means a lot more to him than scoring.
“I always tell Cedric that I can never get 10 assists,” Blackmon said after the game. “As I was walking off the court, I tapped (Assistant Coach T.J. Sorrentine) and said, ‘I still didn’t get 10 assists,’ and he told me I did. That made me really, really happy.”
Alongside Blackmon and Kuakumensah, Spieth had a very quiet 19-point game, including the critical layup and two free throws to ice the game.
“It’s hard to win in this league, and we are thrilled with this one,” Martin said. “Hopefully we can build on it.”
The Bears’ next challenger, Cornell, will come to the Pizzitola fresh off back-to-back road wins over Harvard and Dartmouth. The game tips off Friday at 7 p.m.