Mark Twain once said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” Thus was the case when the men’s basketball team squared off against St. Francis Brooklyn at the Pizzitola Center Wednesday on Twain’s 181st birthday. In order to get ahead, all the Bears (4-4) had to do was get started.
In the final contest of their three-game home slate, the Bears started the action with a 22-6 run, building a lead they would not relinquish en route to an 81-71 win.
From the beginning, it was a fast-paced, end-to-end game. The Terriers (1-5) would get a steal and take the ball down the court only to be turned away in the paint. The next possession, the Bears would run the fast break in the other direction.
Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 credited the Bears’ early advantage to the team’s defensive effort.
“For us to be a good team, we’ve got to be able to rely on our man-to-man defense to get stops,” Martin said. “That’s what we did to build that initial lead.”
St. Francis slowly climbed back into the game. Punctuated by back-to-back three-pointers by Darelle Porter, the Terriers cut Bruno’s lead to four with 6:20 to play in the first half. But a powerful surge by forward Joshua Howard ’20, who scored 11 points in about three minutes, grew the lead to 14. Howard led all scorers, pouring in 19 points in 24 minutes of play.
Howard credited his ability to perform as a freshman to his experience playing with older players growing up: “I was used to playing against seniors as a freshman on varsity (in high school), so that really helped me get used to being able to defend and play offense against guys that are bigger than me and older than me.”
Bruno carried a 42-32 lead into the halftime break.
The second half was a sloppy affair, defined by flying bodies and fast-break turnovers. Bruno had anticipated a disruptive St. Francis defense but hoped to take better care of the basketball during offensive possessions, Martin said. The Bears finished with 19 turnovers, one fewer than the Terriers’ 20.
Travis Fuller ’19 was once again prolific off the bench. In just 18 minutes of play, the 6-foot-9 forward grabbed a game-high eight rebounds and scored a career-high 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting. This marks the second game in a row in which Fuller shot 100 percent from the field.
“I’m really proud of Travis and how he’s developing,” Martin said. “I was extremely hard on him in the second half, and he came right back and responded.”
Fuller’s response included an electrifying put-back dunk midway through the second half.
Brown moved to a zone defense in the second stanza and relied on Chris Sullivan ’19 to play at the top of the defense. Sullivan played like a physical, defensive workhorse, at one point stealing an inbound pass and getting fouled on the ensuing layup. He made both free throws. All his coach could do was applaud. By the end of the game, Martin was only pulling Sullivan off the court for seconds at a time to give him some rest.
Through the fight, Brown held on to its lead.
Tasked with controlling the physicality of the game, the officials had a busy night. “We took 45 free throws, and I thought we should have (taken) 60 or 65,” Martin said. Bruno converted 35 of its 45 attempts. St. Francis only made its way to the stripe 15 times, scoring on nine of its attempts.
Frustrated with the officiating, Glenn Braica, the Terriers’ head coach, screamed himself hoarse. But eventually cooler heads prevailed, as Martin and the Bears walked off the court with their 81-71 win.
Steven Spieth ’17 solidified his place in Brown basketball history, scoring his 1,000th career point. “It’s a great honor. It means a lot,” Spieth said. “A lot of credit obviously goes to (my) coaches and teammates for putting me in the right situations.”
Continuing his tremendous senior season, Spieth scored 17 points and added six rebounds, four steals and two assists. Averaging 18.9 points per game, Spieth is currently one of the Ivy League’s leading scorers.
Spieth has “been such a huge part of our program for four years, and what a year he’s having,” Martin said. “It’s great to see how hard he’s worked, and it’s paying off. It’s what this game’s all about — if you put in the work and you put in the time, you should get rewarded,” Martin said.
While they have a long season ahead of them, the Bears already have a goal in mind.
“It’s going to be a great challenge, but we don’t want to go back below .500,” Martin said.“We want to stay on the positive side.”
Up next, Brown goes on the road to play Central Connecticut State Saturday, its last game before facing off against Providence College Tuesday.