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Brutal buzzer-beater keeps Brown from March Madness

Bears fall to Yale 62-61 in Ivy Championship to end postseason run

The Bears were hurt down the stretch by critical missed free throws, shooting 6-for-12 from the line in the second half including 1-for-4 in the final, fateful twenty-seven seconds.
Courtesy of Brown Athletics
The Bears were hurt down the stretch by critical missed free throws, shooting 6-for-12 from the line in the second half including 1-for-4 in the final, fateful twenty-seven seconds. Courtesy of Brown Athletics

For a moment, Brown could taste the Ivy Championship. Up 60-54 with just 27 seconds to play, they could almost touch the trophy and see their name on NCAA Tournament brackets. 

But when the clock hit zero and the confetti fell at Levien Gymnasium on Sunday afternoon, Bruno was one point shy of playing in March Madness.

The Bears started the season 6-17, stole the last spot in Ivy Madness in a surprise upset, pulled off a stunning takedown of top-seeded Princeton and fought back to seize the lead over second-seeded Yale in the second half of the championship. But they faltered in the final minute of a valiantly hard-fought game, surrendering a brutal buzzer-beater to bring their seven-game win streak and improbable postseason run to a close.

“I’m heartbroken for my team, my players,” said an emotional Coach Mike Martin ’04 following the loss. “I feel like I let them down in the last minute of the game. After a great win or a hard loss, you’re always thinking about how to respond, what’s next, and obviously there’s a lot in front of our people, but not this team (and) this group.”


“We grew so much throughout the year,” Coach Martin added. “We fought like crazy all game. We put ourselves in a position (to win).”

After a defense-dominated first half, Bruno trailed the Bulldogs 26-22. The Bears, who the previous day cited their size and physicality as a pivotal factor in their win over Princeton, were getting outrebounded 21-19 and outscored in the paint 14-8. By the end of the game, Yale had five different players with at least five rebounds, including First-Team All-Ivy Selection and tournament MVP Danny Wolf, who was responsible for thirteen.

The two teams remained locked in a tense back-and-forth battle coming out of the break. Just when Yale would appear to pull away with the lead, Brown would claw back, hanging in the game despite not holding the lead since the fifth minute of play. At the ten minute mark, Brown finally broke through, going on a 10-2 run led by Malachi Ndur ’24 and Kalu Anya ’26 to take a lead which held until the literal last second.

“I felt so good only being down four at halftime given how we played,” Martin said. “I don’t think it was a huge adjustment (in the second half) other than just guys settling in a little bit, not rushing shots, playing off two feet in the paint, (and) taking what the defense gives them.”

Kino Lilly Jr. ’25, a First Team All-Ivy selection who led the league in scoring, followed up his 29-point performance on Saturday with 21 points, including three triples. Anya finished with 12 points and seven rebounds, while star Nana Owusu-Anane ’25 — struggling playing for the second consecutive day — was picked up by Ndur, who in his final game as a Bear racked up 12 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.

The Bears were hurt down the stretch by critical missed free throws, shooting 6-for-12 from the line in the second half including 1-for-4 in the final, fateful twenty-seven seconds. Two of those free throws were missed by Ndur.

“He played so well,” Martin said of Ndur. “Offensive rebounding, passing, finishing, defense … he has way more to do” with the game’s first thirty-nine minutes than the final one, Martin added.

With Brown clinging to a one-point, 61-60 lead, the Bulldogs had nine seconds to put a shot up. As the clock hit five, Wolf passed the ball to defensive star Bez Mbeng at the top of the key. Mbeng drove towards the point, diverting Kino Lilly Jr., Lyndel Erold ’25, and Owusu-Anane towards him. 

Preventing a basket for two more seconds was all the Bears needed to represent the Ivy League in the NCAA Tournament. But with under two seconds to go, Mbeng bounced the ball to a wide-open Matt Knowling, who was standing directly next to the hoop. With no time to waste, Knowling flicked the ball up. As the buzzer sounded, the ball glanced the rim, dropped into the net and landed in front of a stunned Brown group.

Owusu-Anane bent forward with his hands on his knees. Erold sat on the court staring towards the basket. Lesburt stood on the bench with his hands on his head. Ndur held his jersey over his face.


“I was confident the entire game. And that didn’t change until the final play,” Martin said. “I didn’t get ahead of myself. None of the players did. But we were confident, and we believed.”

Martin said he regretted not having called a timeout to “organize our defense a little better.”

While the brutal buzzer-beater will surely be rattling in the minds of fans and players alike through the spring and summer, the season overall has represented a major step forward for Brown men’s basketball. The 2023-2024 season was Brown’s first time advancing to the Ivy Tournament since its inception in 2017, and just Brown’s third time with a winning record in conference play since 2003-2004 — when Mike Martin was still a player.

The page now turns towards the 2024-2025 season, in which Brown’s entire starting five of Erold, Lilly Jr., Anya, Owusu-Anane and Alexander Lesburt Jr. ’26 will return for revenge. Brown will host next year’s Ivy Madness at the Pizzitola Sports Center, giving the Bears a home-court advantage should they make the tournament for a second straight year.

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“I think what we learned is that when we play to our identity and we believe we’re as cohesive and connected as any group out there, we can do some pretty special things,” Martin said. “We were pretty darn close to seeing our name on TV (during the) selection show. Going forward, we’ll grow from this and we’ll learn from this experience.”

“Even in November and December and January, when we were really struggling, I’ve loved every minute of this team,” Martin said.

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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