As Harvard and Brown lined up for the National Anthem on a mild February Friday night at Lavietes Pavillion, you could easily spot the disparity that became the story of the Bears' season. Harvard filled the line with no fewer than 18 players dressed in warmups (without scholarships in the Ivy League, schools have fewer constraints on the number of players on a team). Brown dressed nine.
At the end of the line, five Bears were dressed in suits. Tucker Halpern, the team's leading returning scorer: out for the season with mononucleosis. Longi Yijep and Joe Sharkey, freshmen who were expected to contribute: both out for the season as well. Andrew McCarthy, a starting forward: out for the game as well. And finally, perhaps the biggest of them all, talented Brazilian center Rafael Maia, the star of Jesse Agel's recruiting class: ruled ineligible for the season by the NCAA.
The Bears were an intriguing team in the preseason. The combination of an explosive backcourt, led by 2011 Ivy League ROY Sean McGonagill, wing scoring, and a solid Ivy big man in Andrew McCarthy, led me to believe that the Bears' potent offense might give some of the better Ivy League teams trouble.
The injuries, however, were hard to overcome. The problem turned out to be Brown's defense. With a limited rotation, the Bears found themselves being exploited defensively. They allowed a league-worst 1.11 PPP in Ivy play, allowing opponents to shoot over 50 percent from inside the arc and 40 percent from outside it, while only forcing turnovers on 17 percent of opponent possessions.
By this point in the season, Brown knew they had little hope of beating Harvard using a traditional gameplan, but Coach Jesse Agel was not about to admit defeat. The assets his team had left were its two scoring guards: McGonagill and Stephen Albrecht, both excellent shooters and drivers. But Harvard excelled at perimeter defense, and Harvard's guards were bigger than both McGonagill and Albrecht. How to get them the ball?
Agel hit upon a plan so crazy it just might work. He initiated the Brown offense at the top of the key with the ball in the hands of 6-7 forward Tyler Ponticelli. Albrecht and McGonagill ran off a series of down and cross screens set by the other two Bears players, and Ponticelli found the two guards open coming off cuts.
For the first 8 minutes, it worked well. Albrecht and McGonagill combined for 11 of Brown's 14 points, and the Bears trailed by only a point after a McGonagill layup with 12:52 remaining.
But then Brown entered what can only be accurately described with the gravity that capital letters confers: The Drought. The Drought consisted of 17 straight empty possessions for Brown: 13 missed field goals, and four turnovers. It lasted over 10 minutes of game action. The Crimson defense was so stifling that Brown only attempted 3 shots before 20 seconds of the shot clock had elapsed.
During The Drought, Harvard scored 20 points on its 15 possessions, and took a 21-point lead into halftime. Unlike last year's Harvard-Brown game at Harvard, where the Bears squandered a 24-point halftime lead, there would be no comeback this year. The Bears never got closer than 15 points, and ended up losing by 27.
In many ways, this game was a microcosm of Brown's season. Hamstrung by injuries, the Bears refused to give in and tried everything in their power to win, but frequently found themselves overmatched and on the losing end. Brown stumbled to an 8-24 mark, and Jesse Agel's contract was not renewed.
The future is bright for Brown basketball, however. The pieces are in place, as Halpern and Maia will be added to a team that loses no significant contributors. Whomever the new coach is, be it Interim Head Coach, and former MidMajority darling T.J. Sorrentine, or some other up-and-coming assistant, will find the cupboard far from bare.
at HARVARD 69, BROWN 42 02/17/2012
BROWN 7-19 (1-8) -- S. McGonagill 5-13 1-1 11; M. Sullivan 4-13 1-1 11; S. Albrecht 3-8 0-0 7; T. Ponticelli 0-1 0-0 0; D. Walker 2-5 0-0 4; J. Schmidt 1-4 0-0 2; T. Lundevall 1-5 0-0 3; J. Harris 2-4 0-0 4; J. Biber 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 18-55 2-2 42. HARVARD 22-3 (8-1) -- B. Curry 0-4 0-1 0; K. Wright 6-8 0-2 12; L. Rivard 2-6 0-0 5; K. Casey 1-4 4-5 6; C. Miller 3-4 0-0 9; O. McNally 2-2 0-0 4; C. Webster 2-7 0-0 5; S. Moundou-Missi 4-5 6-8 14; J. Travis 2-2 1-2 5; W. Saunders 3-5 3-3 9; M. Brown 0-0 0-0 0; J. Georgatos 0-0 0-0 0; K. Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-47 14-21 69.
Three-point goals: BRWN 4-9 (S. Albrecht 1-1; J. Harris 0-1; M. Sullivan 2-5; S. McGonagill 0-1; T. Lundevall 1-1), HARV 5-16 (K. Casey 0-1; B. Curry 0-3; C. Webster 1-5; L. Rivard 1-3; C. Miller 3-4); Rebounds: BRWN 21 (S. Albrecht 6), HARV 36 (K. Wright 10); Assists: BRWN 6 (S. McGonagill 3), HARV 15 (B. Curry 9); Total Fouls -- BRWN 19, HARV 11; Fouled Out: BRWN-D. Walker; HARV-None.