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Brown isn’t quite ready to win a game like this

February 8, 2014 Columns No Comments
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Brown gave it all they had against the Ivy League favorites. Lack of effort wasn’t the problem, and talent-wise they might not have been far off. They had their chances, and head coach Mike Martin noted that several times in addition to the reality that they didn’t convert enough of their chances. That’s really what this came down to in one sense.

But in another sense, this was a battle of a young team against a veteran team that has won a lot of games on the latter’s home court. And that is not one this Brown team is ready to win just yet, their 52-45 setback at Harvard serving as the evidence.

“We played hard,” said Martin. “We could have played better, certainly, offensively. I think we could have played smarter. We competed on a night we didn’t play our best.”

Brown came into the game tied with Yale at 3-1 right behind Harvard, so a win would have evened things up in the standings. Considering the Bears’ youth, that would have shocked many who saw this as something of a rebuilding season, although they have good talent. That means they had an opportunity not only to pull off a big win, but to put themselves right in the middle of the Ivy League race early on.

The Bears stayed with the Crimson until a tough stretch late in the first half and for the first few minutes of the second half. They led at times in the first half, at one point by four, and after falling behind got within 23-21 before Harvard scored the last four points of the first half and then the first nine of the second half.

Brown would fight back, but it was basically all she wrote from there. The Bears never gathered enough momentum to cut into the lead until later, and never gathered enough. They got within 48-45 with 2:17 left, but would get no closer.

Harvard played well enough to win, but this is a game Brown could have had. The Bears shot 27.3 percent from the field, including 2-16 from long range. That and 15 turnovers went a long way to erasing a 46-39 rebounding edge. Martin was happy with the rebounding, although he will surely look at the tape and find a few times where bad box-outs or no box-outs at all hurt them. While Brown had a 16-14 edge in offensive rebounds, Harvard had an 18-6 edge in second-chance points and seemed to get them at crucial junctures.

“The difference was they converted and we didn’t,” said Martin of the second chances.

And maybe it also comes down to the Bears not being ready to win a game like this just yet. Although Harvard got a big lift from a freshman on Friday night, they started two seniors and three juniors and brought another senior off the bench. This team has pulled out close, big games in their careers, including on the road. Brown, meanwhile, has five freshmen who either start of play significant minutes. In addition, two other starters are in their second year of college basketball.

Those two starters who are veterans by comparison, junior Rafael Maia and sophomore Cedric Kuakumensah, struggled on Friday night. They were a combined 3-14 from the field, and while they had 17 rebounds they also turned the ball over six times. Kuakumensah is the best defensive player in the Ivy League but continues to be in a funk offensively, and he was symbolic of the team’s issue on Friday night of not finishing as much as anyone. He was 1-6 and is shooting 34 percent on the season, which is abysmal for a big man. His defense has plenty of value, but offensively he has become almost a liability.

The Bears’ 15 turnovers are a study in the relative experience of the two teams. Freshman Tavon Blackmon led the team with 11 points but also had a team-high five turnovers on the night. In all, 12 of their 15 turnovers came from players in either their first or second year of college basketball. Harvard gave the ball away nine times in all.

Perhaps symbolic of the night was a possession with over a minute left and the Bears down 50-45. McGonagill had the ball and was trying to initiate a play while being hounded, as he was all night long. The other Bears didn’t move much, basically leaving McGonagill on an island, and as the shot clock wound down all he could do was drive right into trouble and hope to create something. The resulting turnover basically sealed the game at that point.

Certainly, it helps Brown that they played three of the first four league games at home, and the first weekend was against winless (against Division I teams) Cornell and a Columbia team that is about as young as they are. That’s not to say the Bears’ 3-1 start was a mirage, because they could easily have lost a couple of those games, but they took advantage of the schedule makers giving them some early games at home. They got the chance to come to Cambridge with some confidence, and they appeared to have it. With it, they fought to the end, but were just a little short.

“We’re a confident team,” said Martin. “We’ve got guys that are good players, guys that are capable of being good players in this league on a good team. I think we played hard, I think we could have certainly played better and we could have played smarter.”

In the end, Brown isn’t quite ready to win a road game against the league favorites. In a month, when Harvard comes to their place, they might well be ready to win a game like that at home.

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