No. 4 Brown men’s basketball loses glass slipper in last-second Ivy League Tournament final loss to No. 2 Yale

Kino Lilly Jr. and the rest of the Brown starters get ready to take on No. 1 Yale in Sunday’s Ivy League Tournament final. (Photo: Rob Browne)

NEW YORK – With 27 seconds to go and a 60-54 lead, Brown appeared destined to punch its first NCAA Tournament ticket since 1986.

But Yale finished the game on an 8-1 run, punctuated by a short jumper by senior forward Matt Knowling at the buzzer, to end Brown’s season and claim the Bulldogs’ third Ivy League Tournament championship since the tourney was installed for the 2016-17 season.

While the future is bright for a team that returns its entire starting lineup in 2024-25, it doesn’t remove the  pain felt by the coaches, players and fans.

“Obviously, there is a lot in front of our people, but not this team, so that’s really hard,” the Brown alum and 12th-year head coach told the media immediately following the hard-fought battle “I felt like I let them down in the last minute of the game.”

With Brown claiming a last-second 84-81 overtime victory at Yale only eight days ago and taking down No. 1 Princeton Saturday afternoon, most people at Levien Gymnasium expected a closer contest than the eight-point Bulldog victory predicted by KenPom.

Sunday’s contest was a battle from the opening jump.

Buckets were hard to come by for both teams, but Yale used back-to-back jumpers from junior guard John Poulakidas to grab a six-point lead with 13 minutes to go and held that same advantage, 17-11, at the under-eight media timeout.

The Bears cut the deficit to two on three separate occasions, but a Knowling layup with half a minute to go sent the Elis into intermissions up 26-22.

Looking back at the opening 20 minutes, the main difference was the Bulldogs’ interior play.

The Bulldogs controlled the glass, posted four more blocks and held junior Nana Owusu-Anane, Brown’s second-leading scorer, to two points on 1-for-6 shooting from the field.

After Brown went down six, 38-32, and the game looked it might get away from them, senior forward Malachi Ndur came off the bench and hit two quick layups.

The senior forward from Ontario lit a fire into the Bears, and the team scored 14 of the game’s next 20 points.

When Ndur made a short jumper at the nine-minute mark and sophomore forward Kalu Anya hit a driving layup in the paint, the Bears grasped their first lead of the afternoon, 46-44, and the crowd erupted.

Brown University president Christina Paxson jumped out of her seat in excitement a few minutes later when Ndur grabbed an offensive rebound off an Anya missed layup and put it back to give the Bears a 52-48 lead.

Anya would succeed in hitting his next layup attempt and the Brown advantage was up to six, 54-48, with three minutes left in regulation.

Two triples from Yale senior captain August Mahoney sandwiched between a layup from Brown sophomore Alexander Lesburt Jr. made it a two-point game with 1:24 to go.

Junior Kino Lilly Jr., Brown’s First Team All-Ivy guard, hit a pull-up jumper to bring the lead back to four, 58-54 at the one-minute mark.

On Yale’s next possession, junior guard Bez Mbeng missed an outside jump shot, but sophomore forward Danny Wolf grabbed the offensive rebound, his 13th board of the afternoon.

The ball eventually got to Poulakidas, but his field goal was off the mark and landed in Lilly’s hands.

Lilly went to the line to shoot two, with chants of “MVP” coming from the Brown student section. The Glenn Dale, Md. native went 2-for-2 from the line to put Brown up six, 60-54, and the Bears looked to be on their way to a date with destiny.

The Bulldogs quickly got the ball in the hands of Mbeng, who drove the lane for a bucket and forced senior guard Kimo Ferrari into his fifth personal foul.

Martin pointed to this moment as one he would like to have gotten back.

“I think we could have given a foul earlier on the possession where Yale had the three-point play,” the coach said when asked how he could have done things differently.

When the Ivy League’s two-time Defensive Player of the Year completed the old-fashioned three-point play, the Bears were only up three with 22 seconds on the clock.

Brown beat the full-court pressure, getting the ball to Owusu-Anane, who was immediately fouled.

The big man from Ontario sank one of two from the charity stripe and Brown had a 61-57 lead.

Yale pushed it up the court, getting it into Poulakidas, who nailed a triple, his fourth of the day, to make it a 61-60 game with only 15 seconds remaining.

Ndur was fouled after grabbing the inbounds pass and missed both free throws, giving Yale one last chance.

The Bulldogs, who were out of timeouts, rushed it up again, but Anya took the sixth team foul to slow the Bulldogs’ momentum.

With 6.1 seconds on the clock, Yale inbounded the ball and Mbeng found Knowling streaking along the left baseline. The guard got the ball to the Ellington, Ct. native, who tossed the short jumper over the hands of the Brown defenders.

As the shot sank through the net, the Yale bench and fans stormed the court. The Brown players were left in shock.  The referees sent everyone back to their respective positions as they reviewed the play, and after a few moments confirmed the final result.

The Bears switched tactics in the second half, using a dominant inside effort with 75% (12-for-16) from two to grab the lead.

Unfortunately for Bruno, which entered the day No. 343 in the nation in free-throw shooting, the team went 3-for-9 in the final six minutes, including a 1-for-4 effort in the last 20 seconds, to have the game ultimately slip out of its hands. 

Lilly finished the day with a game-high 21 points on 7-for-15 shooting, and Ndur, playing in his final game at Brown, had 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the field, and Anya also added 12 with a 5-for-7 effort.

Owusu-Anane, who was named to the All-Ivy Second Team earlier this week, was held to 1-f0r-9 shooting and only three points.

“I am heartbroken for my team and my players,” Martin said, holding his emotions in check. “Obviously, they love each other, and they are such a close group, but when you have the backing of all the great people that were here today supporting us, it means everything.”

While Sunday showed the Bears and its fans the highs and lows of March, they can all look forward to a team that returns the entire starting lineup and hosts the 2025 Ivy League Tournament at the Pizzitola Sports Center.

2 thoughts on “No. 4 Brown men’s basketball loses glass slipper in last-second Ivy League Tournament final loss to No. 2 Yale”

  1. Mike Martin deserves full credit for making big changes at the nadir of the season when the team was going nowhere. He also deserves full credit for tweaking how to use his new bigger, more physical line-up over the last six games of the regular season to where, going into the Ivy tournament, it was clear that Brown could be competitive with Princeton. The semi-final victory may have been an upset, but nobody was shocked.

    Martin also deserves credit for riding the new line-up to the final minute of the Yale game. Nobody should miss that just getting to that point was an achievement.

    But when the bright lights were turned up to 11, Martin and his team were not ready for prime time. Martin missed the basics of end-of-game management in terms of when to call time-out, when to foul, how to adjust his defense and most importantly, how to keep his team focused down the stretch.

    Watch the video of the last six seconds of the game. There are Brown defenders just standing around, guarding nobody. That is inexcusable.

    Yale was playing to win and Brown was just hoping for the clock to run out.

    Up six points with 27 seconds left, it would take everything that could go wrong to actually go wrong to lose that game.

    The final minute and especially the last 27 were a disaster in every way. Sure, Yale hit every shot they needed and that’s to their credit, but while the Bulldogs played like cool and composed champions, the Bears looked like deer in the headlights, including their coach.

    • All valid points.

      Coach Martin did a great job changing the lineup when they were 2-6, getting his team to buy in & saving the season.

      In his opening statement after the loss, he said he let his team down in the final minute of the game. When one of the reporters asked him what he would have done differently, he talked about taking a timeout to help Lilly when he got the inbounds near the sideline & to set the defense on Yale’s last possession. He also thought the team could have fouled Mbeng before he made shot that eventually became a 3-point play.

      The Princeton win was great, but they almost lost an 18-point lead to the Tigers’ full court press.

      Brown certainly has to work on late game play for next year. Hopefully, they all learn from the experience.

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