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Brown Men’s Basketball’s journey to Ivy Madness — and how they can win it

“I don’t think we’re the underdogs,” star shooter Kino Lilly Jr ’25 said in a press conference Friday morning

Courtesy of Emma Marion via Brown Athletics.
Courtesy of Emma Marion via Brown Athletics.

On Feb. 16, the Brown men’s basketball team seemed dead in the water. After a loss to the Princeton Tigers, they held a 2-6 conference record with only six games left to play in the regular season.

On Mar. 16, the Bears will face the Tigers once again — this time as the No. 4 seed in the Ivy Madness Tournament, under the bright lights of Columbia’s Levien Gymnasium, and with a potential bid to the NCAA Tournament at stake.

“It’s been an interesting season for us,” said Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 at the team’s press conference Friday morning. It “probably didn’t go exactly as we scripted, but (I’m) really pleased with our ability to fight through some tough times, some hard losses, and we’re playing our best basketball right now as we head into this tournament.”

The Bears’ journey to New York this past month has been nothing short of sensational. 


After notching a pair of road wins against Penn and Columbia to get rolling, Bruno’s momentum just kept building. On Feb. 24, they earned an incredible upset victory over a Cornell team which, until then, hadn't lost at home all season. On Mar. 1, playing a highly anticipated showdown against Harvard — who were battling it out with Brown for the fourth seed — they electrified the Pizzitola Sports Center by winning a dramatic overtime odyssey 71-68. Twenty-four hours later, on his Senior Night, Kimo Ferrari ’24 dropped an absurd 39 points and ten three-pointers as Brown officially clinched the playoff berth

The Bears refused to lose once again last Saturday, playing the No. 2 seed Yale to cap off the regular season. During that game the team took their first lead with — and this is not a misprint — less than a second remaining in overtime. This time, it was Aaron Cooley ’25 responsible for the miraculous deciding shot: a contested three-pointer chucked as the clock wound down.

Co-captain Nana Owusu-Anane ’25 attributed the late-season turnaround to belief and buy-in from the players.

“Earlier in the season, we weren’t as connected as we needed to be; our habits weren’t where they needed to be,” Owusu-Anane said in the press conference. “But our coaching staff called us out on that, we continued to call each other out. And then watching the film and understanding that … something had to change, I think we just continued to buy-in even more.”

“But the main thing is really (to stay) connected, continue to have that belief in one another and ourselves, and then stay at it,” he added. 

The sudden shift can also be traced to Coach Martin’s tinkering with their starting five, as the Bears are now 5-1 with the lineup of Kino Lilly Jr. ’25, Owusu-Anane, Lyndel Erold ’25, Alexander Lesburt Jr. ’26 and Kalu Anya ‘26. 

On Wednesday, Lilly Jr., the league’s top-scorer and three-point shooter, was named to the All-Ivy First Team for the second consecutive season, making him the first Bear to accomplish that feat since Sean McGonagill ’14 in 2014. Lilly Jr. now sits behind McGonagill in second place on the program’s triples leaderboard.

Together, he and Owusu-Anane are the pillars of Brown’s offense, with the former patrolling the perimeter and the latter dominating near the basket. Across the Bears’ six-game winning streak, the pair has averaged a combined 31.2 points per game.

In the press conference, Coach Martin spoke to the importance of players like Erold, Lesburt Jr., Cooley and Ferrari in creating protection for Lilly Jr. down the stretch. “So much pressure is put on (Kino) from a playmaking standpoint that those guys and their emergence I think has really helped,” Martin said. 

“Our frontcourt has been our strength all year long — our depth and our versatility and our athleticism there — getting some support in the backcourt for Kino I think has been really key for us lately,” he added.


But for all the Bears’ miraculous momentum, their looming opponent is no stranger to winning streaks, as Princeton — the Ivy League’s No. 1 seed — has won the last nine games they have played. Princeton is no stranger to high-pressure situations either. While the Bears are making their first appearance in Ivy Madness since its inception in 2017, Princeton’s program has advanced to the tournament’s final round three times. This includes last season, when the Tigers advanced all the way to the Sweet 16 in March Madness.

If the Bears want to pull out a stunning upset victory, much like they did on the road against No. 2 seed Yale and No. 3 seed Cornell, they’ll have to minimize mistakes. Princeton leads the nation in turnovers-per-game (8.1) and free-throw shooting percentage (81.35%), giving the opposition no room for a lapse in concentration on defense.

When asked what the biggest challenge will be facing Princeton, Coach Martin responded: “It’s hard to narrow it down to one challenge, because they do so much so well.”

“You have to defend the three-point line. You have to defend without fouling,” Martin said. “They’re gonna make enough tough shots (that) if you have breakdowns and you give them easy ones, whether those are layups or threes, you’re gonna be in a tough spot.”

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Lilly Jr., the Bears’ junior star, emphasized that Bruno has reason to be confident. “I feel like we’re rolling right now,” he said. “We just beat Yale, we beat Cornell, and they were both undefeated (in conference play) at home. Those were two huge wins to get our confidence up.”

“I don’t feel like we’re the underdogs,” he concluded.

Tipoff between the Bears and Tigers is set for 11 a.m. Saturday morning. The game will be televised on ESPNU and streamed on ESPN+. The Championship game to determine an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament will take place Sunday at 12 p.m.

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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