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Brown’s young talent needs time to grow

November 29, 2013 Columns No Comments

SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Brown reaches Thanksgiving with a 4-2 record, with both games that they lost being right there for the taking. They had Providence on the ropes before succumbing, and had early leads and chances down the stretch Wednesday before losing 70-67 at Bryant. In all, what’s clear is that this team has talent and can win games, but has a lot of room to grow that manifests itself primarily in a need to put forth a more complete and consistent effort.

The Bears have a younger team than they expected to enter the season with due to the departures of Andrew McCarthy and Tucker Halpern. They expected to have both, with the former coming back after sitting out last season, but neither has returned. That leaves them younger up front, especially on the wing, and in all they are looking for younger players to come through, notably two freshmen starters.

Brown will have an advantage up front in many games this year, but Bryant had a 41-37 edge on the glass on Wednesday. The Bears surrendered 16 offensive boards, and in a close game like this that makes a difference as the Bulldogs had a three-point edge in second-chance points. But more than that, the Bears allowed the Bulldogs to shoot 51.5 percent from the field in the first half and let the Bulldogs open up a 12-point lead a few minutes into the second half before they played better defense.

“You can focus on possessions at the end of the game both offensively and defensively, but I thought the game was lost for us with the lack of defense in the first 30 minutes,” said head coach Mike Martin.

In the meantime, the front line of Rafael Maia (16 points, eight rebounds) and Cedric Kuakumensah (12 points, seven rebounds, three blocked shots) held their own. Maia battled foul trouble, and that didn’t help later as Bryant’s Alex Francis scored 14 of his 22 points in the second half.

The support cast is both young and getting back into game shape. Freshmen Steven Spieth and Leland King both have the potential to be very good players, but they are just a few games into their college careers. King, who could see time at both forward spots, has a ways to go physically but nice tools, while Spieth is long, heady and has a good feel for the game. Dockery Walker is coming off an injury that kept him out all of last season, so he’s still making his way back.

Add in the Bears starting Tavon Blackmon, another freshman, at the all-important position of point guard, along with playing Norman Hobbie a lot off the bench, and you can see how much this team has to grow.

“We’re relying on freshmen to do a lot for us, both offensively and defensively,” said Martin. “They’re pretty capable, but they’re going to have nights when they play like freshmen.”

Brown recruited Blackmon to be an impact player, and he’s had his moments as one might expect. He’s still a baby physically and is baby-faced, so there’s upside from that standpoint. He had just one field goal on Wednesday, a three-pointer with 3:12 left that made it a 65-64 game, so while he wasn’t a big factor for much of the game he came up big in a big moment.

In essence, he’s symbolic of this team. There’s a lot to like, but a lot of improving still to go.

“I think we have a good group in the locker room, we have good leadership, we have some good talent,” said Martin. “I think we need to continue to grow up, continue to mature as a team and understand how it’s a 40-minute game. If you expect to beat good teams on the road like Providence and Bryant, you need to play well for 40 minutes.”

Brown’s road-heavy portion of non-league play is done, as five of their remaining eight games before Ivy League play will be at home. That is a good number of opportunities for this team to grow and be a factor in the Ivy League, where there doesn’t appear to be a lot of separation between the teams after Harvard as the clear favorite.

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