With their season on the line, Brown stepped up to the task, defeating both Dartmouth (8-15, 4-5 Ivy) on Friday and Harvard (12-11, 3-6 Ivy) on Saturday to jump to fourth in the Ivy League standings.
“We knew that these games were a ‘moment of truth,’” Aaron Cooley ’25 wrote in an email to The Herald.
“This weekend creaked the door of that potential for us… now it’s time to kick the door down and let the Ivy League know we're here,” Cooley added.
On Friday afternoon, Bruno took care of business, handing Dartmouth a 73-61 loss. Cooley, Nana Owusu-Anane ’25, Kino Lilly Jr. ’25, Dan Friday ’24 and Paxson Wojcik ’23 lined the circle for tip off. Wojcik sparked Bruno’s offense with a three-pointer assisted by Lilly Jr. in the first 17 seconds of play.
Although Dartmouth led 7-5 in the fourth minute of the game, Brown took control, holding the lead for the rest of the half — and the game.
Holding a nine-point advantage of 25-16 with 2:48 left in the half, smooth ball movement led to a Cooley corner three. Wojcik then stole a pass, leading to a stepback three for Lilly Jr. on the other end. Lilly Jr. and Wojcik both excelled offensively, scoring 23 and 15 points respectively on efficient shooting from behind the arc.
Wojcik said his strong performance — five points, nine rebounds, and six assists — “starts with my teammates and coaching staff instilling confidence in me. They all believe in me and it helps me believe in myself.”
Brown entered halftime leading Dartmouth 34-21 and extended their lead to 17, the biggest differential of the game, with 14:21 left in the second half.
Bruno shot an impressive 13-27 (48.1%) from behind the arc and 23-51 (45.1%) from the field. Cooley controlled the floor defensively, tallying three steals and three blocks, while also tying his season high of 14 points. Owusu-Anane scored seven points, along with nine rebounds, four assists, five blocks and two steals.
“After a tough performance defensively against Cornell I knew I had to bounce back and be more locked in for myself and for my teammates,” Cooley wrote. “Sometimes that means doing the nitty-gritty things that may not show up upon the stat sheet,” he added.
The following day, Bruno defeated the Harvard Crimson 68-65 in a close contest. Rolling with the same starting squad, the Bears jumped out to a quick 10-2 lead. Wojcik scored the first seven points for the Bears, and Lilly Jr. drained a three-pointer to cap the 10-0 run.
In a tight first-half, Brown and Harvard were tied with five seconds remaining. Lilly Jr., catching an inbound from Owusu-Anane, made it down the court in five seconds for a buzzer-beating layup, elevating Bruno above the Crimson 28-26 entering halftime.
With 17:24 remaining in the game, Harvard led Brown 34-33, but a 16-0 run lifted Bruno above the Crimson 49-34, sparked by a Lilly Jr. layup and capped off by a Wojcik three-pointer.
Although Harvard later came within two points with six seconds left on the game clock, Bruno held the lead for the remainder of the contest, avenging their home loss against Harvard from earlier this season.
The Bears shot 6-17 (35.3%) from three and 22-49 (44.9%) from the field. Wojcik and Lilly Jr. capped off their high-scoring weekends with 23 and 21 points, the former a career-high for Wojcik.
“Paxson and Lilly Jr., man, are you not entertained? Every night they bring it, and it’s just been an honor and privilege to share the court with their styles of play,” Cooley said.
“We definitely looked for them to operate our offense and be that 1-2 punch in the backcourt,” he added.
Entering this weekend, Bruno’s 59.6% free-throw percentage ranked at the bottom of the Ivy League and second worst among all D-1 programs. Against Dartmouth and Harvard, the Bears shot a much improved 78% from the line on 32-41 shooting.
“We’ve been practicing our free throws consistently so I think that’s given us some confidence,” Wojcik said on Brown’s improved performance from the charity stripe.
“We’ve struggled all year shooting free throws. It’s no secret. We just continue to work on it. We continue to practice pressure free throws as much as we can. … It really helped that Paxson and Kino got to the line a lot tonight,” Head Coach Mike Martin '04 added.
While Martin acknowledged that their performance from the line is a “good step in the right direction,” he emphasized that Bruno still has work to do.
These victories against Dartmouth and Harvard moved Brown to fourth in the Ivy League standings as they continue their pursuit of winning the Ivy League tournament. After securing the win against Harvard, Martin tied former University Basketball Coach Stanley Ward at 133 wins as a head coach for Brown.
Martin will look to become Bruno’s winningest men’s basketball coach against Cornell next weekend at 2 p.m. on Feb. 11. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.