For the third time in five nights, a senior Ivy League guard will lead his team into a hostile John J. Lee Amphitheater. The Bulldogs hope that reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Jason Forte, like Princeton’s Will Venable (0-for-5) and Penn’s Tim Begley (0-for-6), will hit nothing but rim.
“It will be a team effort, with not just one player doing all of the work,” captain Alex Gamboa said. “Everyone has to be aware of the moves he is making and where he is on the floor.”
Called a “one-man show” by Dominick Martin ’06, Forte is the kind of player that salivates at the sight of a flustered defense and drives straight for the hoop. On most trips to the basket, Forte either makes his disorganized opponent pay directly or earns his living from the charity stripe. In eight conference games, Forte has taken 62 free throws, making all but 11 of his attempts. His season-total 135 trips to the line lead the league by a long shot, and he is third in the league in free throw percentage. In order to decrease his field-goal and free throw attempts, the Bulldogs will need to slow Forte with good recovery defense in transition.
“If [Forte] has to face a set defense every time, it will be more difficult for him to make a big impact on the game,” Gamboa said.
When he has no room to create offense in the lane, Forte will look for back-up from the Bears’ arsenal of perimeter shooters, namely the other two top-scorers, Luke Ruscoe and Damon Huffman. Both Ruscoe and Huffman, along with the rest of the Brown team aside from Forte, have been struggling lately from beyond the arc, shooting a combined 24 percent.
“They’re more of a perimeter team,” Kaplan said. “Ruscoe is their four-man, but he is actually more of a three-point shooter.”
Containing long-range shooting has not been a problem for the Bulldogs in the last four games. By making team defense their priority, the Elis held Harvard, Dartmouth, Penn and Princeton to a combined 35 percent shooting from the field and 22 percent from three-point land. In this weekend’s big wins against Penn and Priceton, the Bulldogs managed to play stiffling defense, forcing the top three scorers to go 7-for-27 and 1-for-15 from the field, respectively.
With the Bears coming to New Haven on a four-game slide to make up a game snowed out in January, the Elis are well aware Forte will be looking for history to repeat itself. The Bulldogs have lost six of the past seven meetings with Brown, and they dropped both games to the Bears last season, including an 85-75 overtime loss on their home court. The star of that game was, of course, Jason Forte, who scored 26 points in the thriller.In that game, Edwin Draughan ’05 nearly won it all at the end of regulation, but his attempt from just inside the three-point line rimmed out at the buzzer.
Draughan, who was named Ivy League Player of the Week on Monday, averaged 19.5 points over the weekend on 54 percent shooting and was responsible for both Venable and Begley’s scoreless performances. But the Bulldogs consider Forte one of the fastest and most well-rounded players in the league.
“He’s a very good player,” Gamboa, who has faced Forte for three years, said. “He’s definitely one of the quickest guys I’ve ever played against.”
Besides containing Forte in transition, the Bulldogs hope to keep the trend of strong starts going by setting their tempo early, putting the Bears on the defensive from the outset.
“They like to play pretty fast and we’ll try to play with them,” Eric Flato ’08 said. “Hopefully, we’ll get to play our tempo and get the baskets when we need them.”
Against both Penn and Princeton, the Bulldogs knocked down shots in a timely and plentiful manner, but fatigue and focus will be two competing forces on the court.
“We need to make sure we are ready to go and focused,” Gamboa said. “We do not have to do anything in particular except bring our attention and focus to the game.”
According to Martin, practices have been altered so that players hit the court for an hour to 75 minutes per day. The Elis put forth their best, highly-concentrated effort and then head home. Martin felt that the team has been applying the short, but intense practice plan to games in the past two wins.
“Sweeps are good for our energy, but our practices are getting shorter, too,” Martin said. “I know I feel more rested … and we have been starting well. So, if the two are correlated, we will keep doing it.”
So, there it is. Tonight’s game plan is as follows: shut ’em down and go home to bed.