Last season, the men’s basketball team upended Central Connecticut State (2-4) with an excellent first-half showing. This time around, it was a smothering defensive performance in the second half that fueled its 75-58 victory against the Blue Devils in a matinee matchup Saturday. Co-captain Tavon Blackmon ’17 led by example with 21 points off of 4-for-5 shooting from the field and 11-for-12 from the free throw line, while adding four assists. The victory extended Bruno’s (5-4) winning streak to four and elevated its record above .500 for the first time since the team’s 2014-15 campaign.
The game started out close between the two competitors, with Tidell Pierre scoring CCSU’s first six points. The Bears responded with a 13-4 run to take an early five-point advantage, capped off by a Travis Fuller ’19 layup. Like he has done several times this season, Fuller provided valuable help off the bench, contributing six points, six rebounds and two blocks in 20 minutes of court time.
Kevin Seymour nailed a shot from beyond the arc to tie the game at 21 apiece with 6:43 left in the half. Not to be outdone, Bruno scored six unanswered points — four of which came from Blackmon — before pushing its lead to 30-23 with a Brandon Anderson ’20 trey.
CCSU battled back with its own 6-0 run, punctuated by a Khalen Cumberlander dunk to reduce the deficit to one. Cumberlander kept his team within shouting distance by scoring the Blue Devils’ last seven points to tie the contest at 34-34 with 18 seconds left in the half. But Obi Okolie ’19 sunk a three just before intermission to give Bruno a slim 37-34 lead. The Bears would not surrender their advantage for the rest of the contest, despite CCSU converting 54 percent of its shots.
The second stanza began with the Bears pushing the lead to seven, beginning with back-to-back Joshua Howard ’20 layups. On the team’s next bucket, co-captain Steven Spieth ’17 added to his ever-growing list of program accolades: A three-pointer officially moved him into 25th place on Bruno’s all-time scoring list.
After a three-minute scoring drought, Bruno’s lead ballooned to double digits when Chris Sullivan ’19 drained a three-pointer with 8:10 left to play.
From there, the Bears maintained a high level of defensive pressure to keep the Blue Devils at bay. Bruno made the most of its defensive pressure, forcing CCSU into a season-high 18 turnovers. The Bears capitalized on their defensive effort, turning the CCSU turnovers into 22 points. Though the Bears committed 19 turnovers themselves, the Blue Devils could only translate that into a measly six points. In addition, Pierre’s layup with 4:32 left marked CCSU’s first points in almost seven minutes. Meanwhile, Bruno coupled this defensive pressure with a prolific offense, extending the lead to 12.
“We forced a lot of turnovers because of our half court defense,” Blackmon said. “I think it all started with Brandon Anderson honestly. He was pressuring the ball really well and getting his hands on the ball a lot. … The guys just picked it up from there after seeing him.”
Between a stifling Bears defense and complete lack of production by the Blue Devils, the host had no chance of finding a way back into the contest. Not only would Bruno sustain a double-digit lead for the remaining minutes — peaking at a 20-point difference — but CCSU would also only make one more field goal. Bruno’s 75-58 win was its largest margin of victory of the season thus far.
The second half highlighted the potential of Bruno’s defense when the team is locked in. The Bears held CCSU to only 9-for-27 from the field, including the seven-minute scoreless stand. It wasn’t the prettiest day for Brown shooting either though, but its defense carried the load.
“I think the key to our success on the defensive end in the second half was our transition defense,” Blackmon said. “In the first half, they got a lot of easy points in transition, and we corrected that problem in the second.”
The Bears look to continue their hot streak when they head downtown to face crosstown rival Providence College Tuesday at the Dunkin Donuts Center.