Following a series of non-conference matchups over the winter break, the men’s basketball team claimed its first victory over Yale since 2014 with an 81-80 home win Friday night. Clutch free-throw shooting in the final minutes propelled Bruno to its first Ivy League victory of the season.
“We’re excited to get our first Ivy win under our belt,” said Travis Fuller ’19. “We lost (to Yale) the week before and had a great week of preparation, so it feels great to see our hard work pay off.”
The score tilted back and forth between the storied Ivy League rivals in the first half. The Bears (8-7, 1-1 Ivy) were able to take advantage of the stubborn defense of Zach Hunsaker ’20 and the flashy layups of Brandon Anderson ’20 to a 30-22 lead with five minutes left in the first period.
But the Bulldogs (8-10, 1-1), who are just two years removed from winning the Ivy League crown and pulling off an upset in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament, started to heat up in the final minutes of the half. Trey Phills finished the half with 10 points, leading the way for Yale on a 14-point run that reclaimed the advantage for the Bulldogs.
At the half, Yale led Brown 38-33. Bruno shot 43 percent from the field, grabbed 13 rebounds and shot 36 percent from beyond the three-point arc in the first period. Anderson and Joshua Howard ’20 both led the Bears with nine points each.
Bruno came out of halftime prepared, and surged to a 43-42 lead after a technical foul on Desmond Cambridge ’21. But the Bulldogs quickly returned to form, taking advantage of Bruno’s turnovers and hitting a contested three-point shot to take a seven-point lead with just under 15 minutes left in the contest.
Brown answered back, continuing to drive to the basket and play strong defense to claw its way back into the game. After a strong and-one layup by Jason Massey ’18 and two three-point shots from Cambridge, the Bears tied the game at 61 with just eight minutes to play.
With four minutes left in the game, Tamenang Choh ’21 highlighted a strong scoring and passing night with a powerful one-handed dunk over Miye Oni to give the Bears a 69-65 lead. After a resurgence from Yale, Cambridge tied the game at 72 with less than two minutes to play.
Obi Okolie ’19 hit a three-point shot with 1:10 on the clock to break the tie and give the Bears a 75-72 lead. Just 18 seconds later, Yale’s Alex Copeland hit an and-one layup and a free throw to tie the thrilling game again at 75.
As the game raced to a conclusion, it became clear that free-throw shooting would determine its outcome. Anderson was fouled and sunk both free throws to give the Bears a two-point lead with 44 seconds remaining. After Yale hit two more free throws, the Bears got the ball back in a tied game 11 seconds later. Okolie got fouled on a jump shot with five seconds left and sunk both shots at the charity stripe to give the Bears a 79-77 lead. After Yale’s Oni missed a potential game-tying alley-oop layup with 2.5 seconds left, Okolie’s clutch free throws finally secured the much-needed victory.
“Proud of our Bears for the grit and determination our young men showed tonight,” wrote Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 on Twitter. “Huge contributions from everyone.”
The Bears made 49 percent of their shots from the field and 37 percent from beyond the three-point arc for the game. The Brown bench bounced back in the second half, scoring 26 points. Cambridge led all Bears in scoring with 16 points followed by Okolie and Choh who recorded 12 points each.
“Some keys to victory for us were how we played together as a team and continued to fight together as a team,” Hunsaker said. “We have a lot to improve on. We really have to continue to focus on the defensive end and then just execute on offense.”
Looking ahead, Fuller emphasized his confidence in the team’s development. “We are going to continue to grow as a team,” Fuller said. “I’m confident that we can beat any team in the Ivy League.”
The Bears will host Dartmouth Friday and Harvard Saturday at the Pizzitola Center.