PROVIDENCE — Even before tipoff, Saturday night was already going pretty well for Brown basketball center Cedric Kuakumensah as the Ivy League held a brief ceremony to celebrate his surpassing former Dartmouth star Brian Gilpin as the conference’s career shot-blocking leader.
Once the opening whistle blew, however, things got even better for the two-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year.
Behind 26 points, eight rebounds and five blocks from the 6-foot-9 superstar, the Bears held off a feisty Penn squad in a battle of the final two winless Ancient Eight squads, taking an early lead and holding on for a wild 89-83 win.
“They had some older kids that have played with each other for a long time, so when it came to crunch time, they knew what they had to do,” said Penn coach Steve Donahue, whose Quakers have now lost 10 of their last 11 games against Division I foes. “We’re — with Antonio [Woods] and Darien [Nelson-Henry] not in there — obviously still trying to figure out where we’re trying to go.”
With Nelson-Henry absent due to a pre-existing ankle injury, the stage was set for Brown (6-12, 1-3 Ivy) to use Kuakumensah to ruthlessly attack Penn’s interior defense, but the opposite result panned out. Appearing energized by the pre-game festivities, Kuakumensah let it fly from long range early in the first half, connecting on three three-pointers in the game’s first four minutes to help the Bears jump out to an early 11-5 lead.
But Penn (6-11, 0-3) wouldn’t fall too far behind in its game of cat-and-mouse, as a breakout performance from reserve big man Max Rothschild allowed the Red and Blue to stay alive. As the Chicago native began to dominate on the offensive glass, he wound up with 12 first-half points en route to a career-high 18 overall, making up for the absences of the injured Nelson-Henry and Mike Auger — who injured his nose Friday night in New Haven.
With his inside efforts combined with four first-half three pointers from sophomore forward Sam Jones, Penn was able to claw back enough to briefly take the lead, although a pair of late J.R. Hobbie free throws for Brown had the Bears leading 46-45 going into the half.
“[Max] is a guy that really came of age today, going up against the Ivy League all-time leading shot blocker and taking it right to him, making a difference and competing on the defensive end,” Donahue said. “He came out of the gate really strong and then kind of hit the freshman wall, but in the last couple of weeks he’s played really well in practice, and obviously now, with Darien down, he’s huge.”
“[Darien] is the key to our team, so when he goes down, other people have to step up,” Rothschild added. “I tried to help us out and do that tonight.”
Behind a scoring burst from junior forward Matt Howard, who led Penn with 20 points despite a rough 8-for-16 performance from the foul line, the Quakers’ lead got as large as six points early in the second half, but the Bears soon responded with their own comeback.
Catalyzed by a Kuakumensah four-point play and a series of fine offensive plays from junior point guard Tavon Blackmon (who finished with 23 points and 10 assists), Brown went on a 22-6 run to briefly take a ten-point lead, wearing down the freshmen-heavy Quakers as both Rothschild and fellow center Dan Dwyer found themselves in foul trouble.
“After we played George Mason [in December], we were the second-least fouling team in the country, and we weren’t guarding,” Donahue said. “Not that we guarded well tonight, but we’re so young, guys are trying their hardest and that’s what happens; they overreact and try to do things maybe they can’t do.
“Honestly,” he added, “I feel this is the fourth or fifth game where we didn’t make foul shots in a game where I thought we outplayed the opponent.”
With the help of Howard’s consistent penetration and another strong shooting effort from freshman guard Jackson Donahue — who scored 17 points, including three three-pointers — the Quakers quickly clawed back into it despite not playing any seniors on the night.
A phenomenal assist from Howard to Donahue inside cut Brown’s lead to 78-77 with 4:30 remaining, and another dime from Howard to Rothschild put the Quakers on top 81-80 with under three minutes remaining.
“I can’t say enough about Matt Howard’s performance; I thought he was the best player on the floor,” coach Donahue said. “[As for Jackson,] I think people play him as a shooter so much ... but when the defenses chase him, suddenly he’s going to the rim and finding our bigs for a drop-off or finishing. He’s maturing as a player — I think he’s going to be a guard that is not just a shooter — and he’ll make decisions like you saw tonight.”
Penn, playing three freshmen for the majority of the night in Donahue, Rothschild and Silpe (five points, five rebounds, five assists), continued to battle, but the Quakers struggled to stop Brown’s veteran Big Three down the stretch. Kuakumensah, Blackmon and junior forward Steven Spieth — the younger brother of golf superstar Jordan — led a 13-for-24 three-point shooting effort by the Bears, who quickly seized control again.
A Donahue assist to Rothschild brought Penn to within 84-83 in the last minute, but Rothschild fouled out soon after, as Spieth (who finished with 19 points) hit a pair of clutch free throws to put Brown up 86-83 with 39 seconds remaining.
Penn got one last opportunity on offense, and Howard threw a phenomenal pass over two defenders to find an open Jones in the right corner.
But the sharpshooter’s attempt fell just short, as Brown secured the rebound and took care of business at the foul line to clinch its first Ancient Eight victory of the season.
“I thought we got a good look on that last play — a great pass by Matty — but it just didn’t go,” coach Donahue said. “We played very hard, but Brown made a lot of shots, and we did not play great defense.”
Still winless in Ivy League play, the Quakers will return to the friendly confines of the Palestra next weekend, hosting Harvard and Dartmouth teams that will both be coming off their own respective 0-2 weekends. And although attrition has harmed the Quakers in more ways than previously thought conceivable, Saturday’s showing by the freshman class seems to be a silver lining in the program’s prospects moving forward.
“It feels nice [to have success], but we lost, so it’s not the best feeling,” Rothschild said. “We lost twice, but we’ll be sure to pick it up; we’ve got two at home next weekend, so we’re excited for that.”Comments powered by Disqus
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