Emerson falls to Brown in D1 matchup

by Matt Couture / Beacon Staff • December 9, 2016

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Emerson traveled to Brown University to face the Division I Bears at the Pizzitola Sports Center on Friday night.
Emerson traveled to Brown University to face the Division I Bears at the Pizzitola Sports Center on Friday night.

College basketball’s 30-second shot clock can sometimes feel like an eternity for young fans raised watching the NBA. It probably felt faster than the shutter speed on a high-quality Nikon camera for Emerson’s men’s basketball team Friday night.

Pressure came early and it came often. From the opening tip, Brown coach Mike Martin’s unit played tight defense. And it didn’t help the Lions (3-5) that the Bears (6-5) converted nearly every one of their looks on offense in the first five minutes en route to a 90-58 victory.

When Brown called its first timeout with 15:29 remaining, the team had shot 4-of-5 on field goals, and made both of its threes. Despite difficulty getting shots off early, Emerson settled in after the stoppage.

Sophomore guard Geoff Gray used sheer willpower to get to the basket against two Brown post players, and got two free throws out of it. He converted both. Junior guard Michael Sheng found a hot hand and hit a three to make it 14-8 Brown with 13:50 to go in the half.

Sophomore center Mac Sashin, who finished with five points and three rebounds, said the Lions played solid basketball at times, but the difference in play between a Division I and Division III program won out in the end.

“They’re Division I talent,” Sashin said. “It’s up to us to play up to their level. They’re not going to play down to our level, they’re a really good team, and at first we played really hard, but I think in the end their talent just overmatched us.” 

The Lions and Bears played a more even game in the final ten minutes of the first half, with Emerson looking less overmatched and Brown making shots at something less than an 80 percent clip. But the Bears held the edge at halftime, 37-25.

Emerson head coach Bill Curley said the game plan called for his defense to focus on Brown’s four main players, forcing their fifth man on the court to make open shots. Curley said that strategy was effective, and that the defensive effort was improved from the Lions’ 83-78 loss to Lesley on Tuesday.

“We were afraid of those guys posting up their wings on our smaller guys and taking us to the block, so we wanted to try to get them out of there on that,” Curley said. “We took them out of their comfort zone a little bit. We were going to make those guys not penetrate and get to the rim, and I thought we did a much better job tonight."

Brown showed no let up out of the break. Sophomore guard Obi Okolie was fouled as he made a three, and converted the rare four-point play from the free throw line. Brown then applied full-court pressure, forcing a steal, which led to two successful Steven Spieth free throws.

The Lions shot better early in the second half than they did in the first. Junior forward Corey Fitz scored five points, and Sashin added two, as did Gray and Sheng before the Bears called timeout with 15:41 to play. At that point, Emerson and Brown had each scored 11 points in the half.

Brown began to run away with the game from there. A 13-2 run aided by two threes from freshman guard Brandon Anderson put the Bears up 26. A foul called on Sashin then drew the ire of Lions coach Bill Curley, who was assessed a technical foul with 11:31 to play. 

Curley said he didn’t appreciate the lack of fouls called as opponents worked on Sashin down low.

“Guys are just going to be picking on Mac all year— they’re getting up underneath him, they’re hitting him, they’re pulling his arm down— and because he’s big, they’re letting him get picked on,” Curley said. “I’ve got to let our guys know I’m going to fight for them.”

Brown lengthened its lead in the final ten minutes, with its largest advantage of 32 showing on the scoreboard at the final whistle. The Bears got double-digit scoring from four players: Anderson, Okolie, Travis Fuller, and Corey Daugherty.

Gray and Sheng led Emerson in in scoring, with 20 and 11 points respectively. Martin, Brown’s head coach, had high praise for Gray postgame.

“Geoff Gray is a terrific player,” Martin said. “You could see he was really excited to be here, and excited for this opportunity to play against a Division I team, and I thought he did a good job.”

Emerson thrived at the free throw line, making twelve of fifteen shots. Brown had similar success in that area—they made 19 of 23 free throws.

Emerson returns to the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym to take on Curry College in nonconference action Sunday at 1 p.m. Brown will be back on their home court Saturday to face Johnson and Wales University at 7 p.m.