March 8, 2003
Cambridge, Mass. - Bring on the NIT.
Sophomore guard Jason Forte scored 26 points, connecting on 11 of 12 free throws, to lead Brown to a 93-80 victory over Harvard in the regular season final for both teams.
While Penn clinched the Ivy League title outright tonight with a 69-52 win over Cornell, the Bears finished second in the Ivy standings and remained in contention for a berth in the National Invitational Tournament after matching the school record for wins, finishing the season with a 17-11 record, including a 12-2 Ivy League mark.
The Bears are one of the hottest teams in the nation, winning 14 of their last 16 games. Brown also set a school record for Ivy wins in a season, and became the first Ivy League team other than Penn and Princeton to win 12 Ivy games since Columbia in 1964.
It was the Brady Merchant show in the first half as Harvard's senior guard scored 23 of the Crimson's first 27 points. He finished the half with 28 points, a new career scoring high, connecting on 6 of 8 three point baskets, and 11 of 18 field goals. Brown's Jason Forte and Patrick Powers kept Brown in the game by scoring nine points each in the first half as the Bears trailed 42-37 at intermission.
Trailing 72-71, Brown senior Alai Nuualiitia gave Brown the lead for good, 73-72, on a layup with 7:52 remaining in the game. Brown went on to outscore the Crimson 12-4 over the next four and a half minutes to grab an 85-76 lead and put the game away. The Bears connecting on 12 of 12 free throws in the decisive spurt.
It was one last encore for Brown seniors Earl Hunt and Alai Nuualiitia, who are the highest scoring duo in Brown history with a combined 3,365 career points. Hunt is Brown's all-time leading scorer, finishing his career with 2,030 points, fourth best in Ivy League basketball history.
Nuualiitia started his record 109th consecutive game for the Bears, starting every game in his four-year Brown career. He moved into 3rd place on Brown's all-time scoring list with 1,334 career points, moving past Marcus Thompson, who scored 1,328 points from 1985-1989, and former head coach Mike Cingiser, who netted 1,331 points from 1959-1962.
"It's hard to replace two of the top three scorers in our school history," said head coach Glen Miller. "Earl and Alai mean more to this program than just scoring. They provided leadership, commitment to the program, and provided a great example to our younger players."
Forte scored 17 of his team high 26 points in the second half to lead Brown's comeback bid. He connected on 11 of 12 free throws for the game and 7 of 13 field goals, while grabbing eight rebounds and handing out five assists. He finished the season with 149 assists, just one short of Brown's single season mark of 150 by Mike Waitkus from 1983-1986.
"Jason is the best point guard in the Ivy League, hands down" said Miller. "He's shown his skills all season, and he's only going to get better."
Hunt finished the game with 19 points for the Bears, while Powers added 17 points, connecting on 5 of 6 three-point baskets. Bailey scored 11 points and Nuualiitia added 10 points for the Bears.
Merchant completed his Harvard career by establishing a new school record with 45 points, and his nine three-point baskets also set an all-time Crimson mark. Senior Elliott Prasse Freeman scored 13 points and added 9 assists for the Crimson.