The men’s basketball team entered this weekend in the thick of the Ivy League Playoff race — despite a disappointing loss to Columbia Friday, the Bears delivered with a victory over Cornell Saturday.
The latter victory has given the Bears 18 wins this year, the second-highest total in program history.
The losses of Matt DeWolf ’21 due to injury and Desmond Cambridge ’21 from fouling out doomed Brown in a hard-fought 80-77 defeat by the Lions. But on senior night, the Bears put on a show, dominating the Big Red 75-51 to pull a game ahead of Cornell in the standings. The win gave Brown control of the coveted fourth and final spot in the Ivy League Tournament with two regular season games remaining.
Bruno (18-10, 6-6 Ivy) started off on a bad note against Columbia (9-17, 4-8), as DeWolf went down with a head injury on the first possession of the game. He would not return for the remainder of the weekend. With DeWolf out, the Bears struggled to defend Columbia’s 6’10 Patrick Tapé throughout the game, as he finished with 16 points. The teams battled for control over the game for the rest of the half, with neither squad able to pull ahead. Brown headed to the locker room with a fragile 39-37 advantage.
The Bears jumped out to a seven-point lead early in the second half, but Columbia went on a run to take a six-point edge with under five minutes left in the game. Cambridge hit two consecutive threes to tie the contest at 67, but he fouled out of the game immediately afterwards, sapping Brown’s momentum. It was all Columbia from there, as Lion guard Gabe Stefanini hit consecutive threes of his own. The Lions never looked back en route to a 80-77 victory.
Despite the loss for Bruno, Obi Okolie ’19 emphasized that the team knew it would be able to recover.
“I don’t think it was difficult (to bounce back),” Okolie said. “We’ve had some tough losses this year already, and it’s a quick turnaround. … We just take the same mentality just to get the next one.”
Desperate to stay in the running for an Ivy League Tournament berth after being upset by the previously last-placed Lions, Bruno looked to get back on track against Cornell (13-15, 5-7). Following a ceremony honoring seniors Okolie, Chris Sullivan ’19 and Travis Fuller ’19, Brown got off to a sluggish start against the Big Red. Cold shooting from the field caused the Bears to go down 26-21 with three minutes left in the first half, but a 12-2 Brown run to close the period put them in control as they headed to the break with a 33-28 lead.
Bruno’s momentum never slowed for the rest of the game as they continued to pull away from Cornell. A four-point play from Zach Hunsaker ’20 sparked another extended Brown run as the Bears pushed their lead to 50-34. Brown commanded the remainder of the half, eventually winning the Ancient Eight battle by a 24-point margin. With 11 seconds left in the game, Davis Franks ’22 used an emphatic jam to cap off the Bears’ 75-51 win.
“It wasn’t always pretty for us on offense, but our defense fueled our transition game,” said Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 following the win.
Joshua Howard ’20 was pressed into the role of Brown’s big man for the weekend due to DeWolf’s injury. Despite only receiving clearance Thursday to return playing following a broken nose injury, Howard performed admirably, posting 16 points against Cornell to lead the Bears.
“I didn’t really know how many minutes I was going to get, I just knew that when I stepped on the court … I was going to have to play hard,” Howard said of his return.
Okolie provided another notable statistic Saturday by becoming the 30th Brown men’s basketball player to surpass 1,000 career points.
“It was great, it was my first time playing with my whole family here,” Okolie said.
The Bears will face two all-important conference matchups to end their regular season as they take on Princeton Friday and Penn Saturday. Sweeping this final weekend would guarantee Brown a spot in the Ivy League Tournament, but a loss would put their hopes of qualifying in jeopardy.
“When this team’s backs are against the wall, I like our chances,” Martin said.