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Bears prevail over Harvard in electric overtime classic at the Pizz

Bruno now maintains sole possession of playoff spot in Ivy standings

<p>At the sound of the final buzzer, students stormed onto the court to celebrate with the players.</p><p>Jimmy Picerelli via Brown Athletics</p>

At the sound of the final buzzer, students stormed onto the court to celebrate with the players.

Jimmy Picerelli via Brown Athletics

Fans packed the Pizzitola Sports Center Friday night to watch men’s basketball face off against Harvard in one of Brown sports’ most pivotal — and highly-anticipated — games of the season. What those in attendance experienced was an emotional rollercoaster of electric extremes, with the Bears dramatically seizing, surrendering and eventually reclaiming momentum in an instant classic played before a thunderous audience.

The Bears and Crimson entered the evening tied for the fourth and final spot in the Ivy Madness tournament. With just three games apiece remaining in the regular season, whichever team emerged on top would secure a clear and controllable path to the playoffs, while the loser would be faced with the likelihood of elimination.

The Bears ran with their recent go-to starters: Kino Lilly Jr. ’25, Nana Owusu-Anane ’25, Kalu Anya ’26, Alexander Lesburt Jr. ’26 and Lyndel Erold ’25. In Lilly Jr. and Owusu-Anane, the Bears possess two of the league’s top three scorers, with Lilly Jr. leading the pack on the back of his stellar three-point shooting. In Anya, the Bears sport the reigning Ivy League Player of the Week. By the end of the night, all five had recorded a signature moment with the lights at their brightest.

It didn’t take long for the Pizz to get loud. Within one minute of tipoff, the stands — led in spirit by a section of students in all-white Bruno gear — had already been sent into a frenzy by an errant Crimson pass and a Lilly Jr. triple to open scoring.


The energy didn’t let up. Within the first ten minutes, Brown defended their court in dominant fashion, taking a 14-4 lead while boasting six blocks and three steals — as well as all manner of slick shots and suffocating stops. 

The team was firing on all cylinders, with Owusu-Anane dominating the paint offensively, Anya dishing out harsh rejections on defense, Aaron Cooley ’24 playing cool as ever and captain Malachi Ndur ’24 appearing in the right places at the right time as the Bears expanded their lead to 22-8.

The Crimson put together an 11-6 run to end the half, but the game remained firmly in Brown’s hands as they took a 28-19 lead into halftime. 

The Bears powered on when play resumed — hitting four shots from beyond the arc (two from Ndur, one from Lesburt Jr. and one from Erold) in just over five minutes. Owusu-Anane, meanwhile, sizzled like a sparkplug, racking up three rebounds, two steals, a dunk and a pair of free throws in a six-minute span, all the while roaring to himself, his fellow Bears and his home crowd.

Maintaining a 50-33 advantage with 11:15 left on the clock, the Bears appeared poised to take a clean win in the critical contest. 

But just when all seemed to be coming up Bruno, the Crimson slowly began to creep back. After Kimo Ferrari ’24 and Owusu-Anane each barely missed open three-point attempts, the Bears’ offense began to stagnate as Harvard’s seized its opportunity. Harvard was already riding a 12-6 run when Ferrari committed a foul on a successful three-point attempt, leading to a four-point play and cutting the lead to 56-49. Lilly Jr., who had gone scoreless while being relentlessly double-teamed by Harvard in the second-half, got two back on free-throw attempts, but Harvard had already caught momentum. 

The Crimson surged, utterly stunning the Bears and their home spectators with a devastating 12-0 run. After leading the entire game — at one point by as much as 17 points — the Bears suddenly found themselves behind three with eighteen seconds on the clock. 

The Crimson called a timeout. Everyone in the arena knew to whose hands the Bears hoped to deliver the basketball: Lilly Jr., the league’s leading scorer and the player with the fourth-most triples in program history. Ferrari, pestered by the Harvard defense, took the ball up the court, passing it to Owusu-Anane as the clock struck twelve.

Bears’ Head Coach Mike Martin later walked through the nail-biting play moment-by-moment: “Harvard did a good job of not letting us speed up into our set, so we didn’t get into it as fast as maybe we would have liked to.”

Owusu-Anane took a few dribbles with purpose, appearing as if he may attempt a two-pointer to put the Bears within one in the hopes of another quick possession, but the Crimson put multiple players between him and the basket.


“The first option if they messed up the coverage was to get Nana a quick layup, but then obviously two (players) went with him,” Martin continued.

Owusu-Anane then pivoted, spinning around to find Lilly standing just behind the arc to the left of the basket. As Lilly motioned to shoot, Harvard’s Justice Ajogbor, a 6’10” defensive death sentence, came barreling towards him.

“Nana made a great pass, but then (Lilly Jr.’s) got 6’10” closing out on him,” Martin said. “Plays that lead to contested step-back jumpers with (6’10”) guys on him probably aren’t great plays.”

But when Lilly Jr., after a quick fake, sent the ball soaring over Ajogbor’s outstretched left hand, it somehow found its way through the netting of the hoop. Of his 227 career three-pointers prior to that moment, zero were bigger than this one.

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“We just have really good players who can make that play look a little better,” Martin concluded.

According to Lilly Jr. following the game: “Nana came out of the time-out and said ‘I’m throwing it back regardless.’”

Standing on the brink of a heart-wrenching blown lead and near-certain playoff elimination, Lilly Jr.’s three pushed the Bears back into a tie with just 5.8 seconds left on the clock. After strong defense by Cooley to prevent the Crimson from getting a shot off prior to the buzzer, the showdown was headed to overtime.

After a Harvard three opened the five-minute overtime period, the ever-expanding plot thickened when Lesburt Jr. got unintentionally fouled to the face, going down hard and slamming the court in frustration.

“I couldn’t see for probably two minutes,” Lesburt said following the game.

Lesburt missed his first throw, made the second, and was then removed from the game with his status unclear.

Tangled in the tension of the impending buzzer, the two teams traded stylish buckets, with Lilly Jr. fast-breaking across the court for a layup and Ajogbor responding with a deafening dunk.

The Bears suffered a critical blown opportunity when, after Anya recovered the rebound from a missed Ferrari three-point attempt, Erold failed to make the open shot in the paint.

With exactly one minute left, the Bears now found themselves trailing — this time by a score of 66-64 — when a familiar figure emerged onto the court.

“Coach put me back in, and he always tells me, ‘If that shot’s open, hunt that shot. It’s gonna be there, and take it when it’s there,’” Lesburt said of his return.

Immediately dished the ball while standing behind the arc, Lesburt got his open shot, took it and didn’t miss. Just like Lilly Jr. before him, Lesburt had now dug the Bears out of the hole.

As the crowd erupted, Lesburt and his teammates began to partake in a celebration befitting the moment: holding their hand over one side of their face as he had done in pain on the hardwood floor minutes earlier.

“It just kind of came naturally,” Lesburt said of the celebration. “I kept holding my eye after I got poked, so after I hit the shot it just felt natural…”

After Lesburt rewrote the frustration of his minor injury, he was promptly subbed out for Erold, who — having missed the wide open jumper — now got his chance for redemption.

Erold was up to the task, promptly delivering a block of Harvard’s leading scorer Malik Mack, securing the second-chance rebound, and was intentionally fouled. Draining both free throws, he put the Bears up 69-66.

The Crimson attempted two heart-stopping threes on their next possession, but neither were good, with Ferrari being eventually fouled by Ajogbol, driving the latter out of the game. Ferrari’s free throws were both good.

With seconds left on the clock, Mack mustered an impressive layup, but the fight had already finished. When Ferrari inbounded the ball and clutched it, Bruno had prevailed.

What happened next could only be described as collective, cathartic mayhem: Brown students poured out of the rafters and stormed onto the court to celebrate with the players, chanting and cheering for the unforgettable win that all but clinched men’s basketball its first-ever appearance in the Ivy Madness playoff tournament.

“I thought it was a great team win,” Erold said. “Everybody was just diving on the floor, doing whatever we needed. We knew how important this game was.”

The Bears’ will next take on Dartmouth Saturday evening in their Senior Day match-up before heading to New Haven for the regular season finale next weekend. Should they advance, they’d play in the Ivy Tournament hosted by Columbia and beginning March 16.

When asked just what kind of position Friday’s win positions them in to earn a playoff berth, Erold was quick to respond: “a great one.”

Coach Martin remained measured. “We’ve got two more games. I know for sure if we win those two games that then we’ll be playing in New York City.”

Linus Lawrence

Linus is a sports editor from New York City. He is a junior concentrating in English, and when he's out of The Herald office you can find him rooting for the Mets, watching Star Wars or listening to The Beach Boys.

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