“We’re a hard-playing team”: How Brown men’s basketball claimed the final Ivy League Tournament slot

Three times in the Ivy Tournament era, Mike Martin’s Brown teams have tied for fourth place only to lose out on a postseason bid due to being on the wrong side of the league’s tiebreakers. After a thrilling overtime victory over Harvard on Friday night and a blowout win against Dartmouth on Saturday, the Bears earned its first trip to Ivy Madness.

Brown (11-17, 7-6 Ivy) seemed out of the race for the tournament after starting off league play at 2-6 and hosting only two more games in the Pizzitola Sports Center. Three weeks later, Bruno, winners of five straight, is a serious threat to challenge Princeton, Yale and Cornell for the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

After the weekend, Harvard (14-12, 5-8), which also lost to Yale on Saturday, missed out on its third straight conference tournament and can do no better than fifth place. Dartmouth (5-21, 1-12), which has never made it to Ivy Madness and was defeated by the Bulldogs on Friday, is locked into last place and plans on holding its historic unionization vote on Tuesday before welcoming the Crimson in the Tuesday season finale for both teams.

Playing in front of a packed student section and a total crowd of more than 1,700, the Bears started off strong against Harvard and found itself up 48-31 with 13 minutes left in regulation.

With the hosts up 14, 54-40, and 8:21 left on the clock, the Crimson finally made its move.

Harvard, battling Brown for the last playoff spot, stormed back with a 19-4 run and took a 59-58 lead with 1:39 to go.

Down three, 61-58, with the shot clock off, Brown put the ball in the hands of Kino Lilly Jr., its leading scorer and the top season-long point producer in the Ancient Eight.

Despite a lunging block attempt from 6’10” senior forward Justice Ajogbor, the 6-foot junior All-Ivy guard, who was 4-for-18 to that point, sank a triple from the left elbow to send the game into overtime.

Both teams struggled from the field throughout the opening part of the extra session, but Harvard found itself up two, 66-64, with one minute to go.

After a jump ball was awarded to Brown with the possession arrow in its favor, the Bears took it out underneath its own basket.

The Bears quickly kicked passed it along the perimeter, eventually finding an open Alexander Lesburt Jr. The sophomore guard, shooting from the same spot and facing the same lunging Harvard big man, sank the three-pointer to give Brown the 67-66 lead.

The big shot was even more impressive since Lesburt was inadvertently poked in the eye earlier in the overtime session and was playing with impaired vision.

On the next trip up the court, Crimson junior guard Tyler Simon attempted a short jumper, but it was blocked by Brown junior Lyndel Erold.

The ball ended up back with Harvard, which eventually got the ball in the hands of its three-point specialist, Louis Lesmond. The junior guard from France put up a triple from the left corner, but it went off the rim and was rebounded by Erold.

After Erold was sent to the line and sank both free throws to make it a three-point game, the Crimson’s leading scorer, Malik Mack, tried to tie it, but his long three-ball hit off the rim.

Simon grabbed the board and kicked it to sophomore Chisom Okpara, but his contested three missed the mark and landed in the hands of Brown senior Kimo Ferrari with four seconds left in overtime.

Ferrari made both shots from the charity stripe to make it a two-possession game, and the victory was assured.

Seconds later, the Brown student section, unaware of, or unconcerned about, the national discussion on court storming, emptied onto the court to embrace the Bears.

 Saturday started out as a repeat of Friday, with Brown opening up an 18-point lead, 51-33, over Dartmouth with 16 minutes to go in regulation. Like the night before, the Bears allowed its opponent to get back into the game and the Big Green were only down eight, 56-48, with just under 10 minutes to go in the second half.

Unlike the opening night of the regular season’s last back-to-back, Brown stopped the bleeding and put Dartmouth away.

After Ferrari hit his program record 10th three-pointer of the evening and junior forward Nana Owusu-Anane had a breakaway jam from a Lilly assist off the backboard glass, the Bears were up 87-61, the bench was cleared, and it was time for the 1,100-plus crowd to celebrate the elusive Ivy tournament bid.

“I’m really happy for these guys,” Martin told ESPN+ after the game. “They’ve worked so hard, and we’ve battled adversity.”

In one of the program’s most celebratory Senior Day victories since the 1985-86 Ivy League championship season, Ferrari led the way with a career-high 39 points on 14-for-16 shooting and received a celebratory Gatorade shower from his teammates during his postgame interview.

Bruno has been led by Lilly (18.1 ppg, 3.3 apg, 37.8 mpg) and Owusu-Anane (14,8 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 32.4 mpg) all season, but the offensive and defensive benefits of adding Lesburt and Erold to the starting lineup following the 83-69 home loss to Columbia, as well as the emergence of a healthy Ferrari (17.2 ppg and 23-for-32 from three over the last five games) have proven to be big factors in the Brown turnaround.

“We want to keep playing with the same confidence, but also (with) spirit, passion and energy. That’s who we are, that’s what our program is all about,” Martin told ESPN+. “We’re a hard-playing team, resilient, tough, that’s really connected and execute for 40 minutes. If we can play to our identity, I like our chances.”