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One win away from March Madness: Men’s basketball shocks Princeton in 90-81 win

Bruno will face off against Yale tomorrow in Ivy League championship

<p>The Bears and Tigers went back-and-forth early, with 18 of the first 24 points scored from three-point range.</p><p>Courtesy of Brown Athletics.</p>

The Bears and Tigers went back-and-forth early, with 18 of the first 24 points scored from three-point range.

Courtesy of Brown Athletics.

In Brown men’s basketball’s introductory press conference at Ivy Madness yesterday afternoon — ahead of the semifinal game against a heavily favored, reigning champion Princeton squad — star Kino Lilly Jr. ’25 said, “I don’t think we’re the underdogs.”

It turns out his confidence was not misplaced.

The Bears stunned Princeton Saturday with a 90-81 upset victory at Levien Gymnasium in New York. After starting the season 6-17, Brown is now one win from earning their first appearance in March Madness since 1986. The Bears will play Yale for the Ivy title tomorrow at noon.

“Our guys played so confident. They played so loose. They played like the team we thought we were back in August,” Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 said after the win. “It’s taken us a long time to get to where we are now. It’s been a hard season — a lot of struggles, a lot of challenges, a lot of really hard losses. But when you go through those experiences, if you can stay with it and stay connected and continue to believe, it’s only gonna make you that much better.”


The Bears were led by the dynamic duo of Lilly Jr. and Nana Owusu-Anane ’25, both of whom recorded double-doubles in the biggest game of their collegiate careers. Lilly Jr., the league’s top scorer and three-point shooter, racked up 27 points and 10 assists. Owusu-Anane — who ranks top five in the league in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals — tallied 19 points and 15 rebounds, firing up his teammates and the crowd in the process.

“(Kino’s) just so steady. He does not get rattled. He’s got such a great demeanor,” Coach Martin said. “But then Nana complements him being our emotional leader.”

AJ Lesburt ’26 and Kalu Anya ’26 also racked up double-digit points for Bruno, with 15 and 13, respectively. Anya, Owusu-Anane, and Malchi Ndur ’24 allowed Brown to leverage their physicality over the Princeton offense.

“We have kind of a size advantage on them,” Owusu-Ananae explained. “Me, Kalu and (Malachi) just wanted to come in (and) assert our physical dominance from the start.”

“That’s how we’ve recruited,” Martin said. “We’ve really prioritized versatility, physicality, the ability to be a great defensive team and rebounding team.”

While the Bears out-rebounded the Tigers 42-32, their offense shot 56% from the field — a lethal combination which even Princeton couldn’t overcome. Combined, Lilly Jr. and Owusu-Anane shot 17 for 26.

“We’re instilling confidence in each other,” Lilly Jr. said of the team’s momentum, which has built over a seven-game winning streak. “The coaches are instilling confidence in us. We came out making shots.”

Both teams, in fact, came out making shots. The Bears and Tigers went back and forth early, with 18 of the first 24 points scored from three-point range.

Brown surged to end the first half, going on a 13-3 run and bringing the score to 44-31. Bruno expanded their lead to twenty points early in the second half, as tensions built and dueling chants fought for volume in the packed playoff atmosphere.

“The energy was amazing, man,” Anya said. “That energy definitely helped us on the court, kept us high intensity, kept us going, and it means a lot.”


On the court, the Bears were putting on a show, with Owusu-Anane and Anya dunking, Lilly Jr. and Lesburt connecting and Princeton uncharacteristically struggling to score.

At the start of the second half, Martin described the team as “playing together, sharing the ball, shooting with confidence and getting stop after stop after stop.”

“From everyone playing on the court to everyone on the bench, you could see everyone was super involved and super excited for the team,” Lesburt said.

But as Princeton began to apply extreme pressure to Brown’s offense in the backcourt, forcing turnovers and limiting time on the shot clock, they finally crept up the scoreboard. The Tigers roared all the way back to a three-point, 84-81 deficit with 45 seconds remaining.

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Martin called Princeton a challenging opponent because they don’t “beat themselves” on the court. “They don’t miss free throws, they don’t turn it over,” he said.

But Brown held on, making most of their free throws when fouled and keeping Princeton from getting easy looks.

“It got a little too close at the end, man,” Martin said to chuckles in the press room. “I didn’t like it being a one-possession game.”

“We work on it during practice, dealing with those moments of adversity,” Anya said of the Tigers’ run. “We knew they were gonna fight back and they were gonna make a run, but (we) just stayed composed, stayed true to our principles and got the win.”

The Bears’ Ivy League Championship Game against Yale will be broadcast on ESPN2 and streamed on ESPN+.

While celebrations for the unexpected win continue among Bears fans and the tantalizing prospect of playing in March Madness looms large, the team remained focused on their next opponent.

Playing in March Madness is “definitely our goal — it’s our dream, obviously,” Owusu-Anane said. “But we know that there’s still a task at hand.”

“We came here to get two (wins),” Martin said. “Tomorrow’s gonna be an unbelievable challenge.”

As for the Bears’ approach, Lesburt assured the team will stick to the same script followed throughout their incredible second-half winning streak.

“We go in, we’re prepared, and we have full belief in ourselves and in one another,” he said. “I think if we do that, no one can beat us.”

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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