It certainly didn’t take long for the Brunswick School basketball team to make a statement.
From start to finish, the Bruins’ performance against Taft School in its season-opener spoke volumes.
Scoring the final 12 points of Saturday’s game, Brunswick began its season with a spirited 64-56 victory over visiting Taft.
Junior Khari Wilson scored a team-high 25 points, while freshman forward Chisom Okpara added 22 points for the Bruins, who overcame a Taft team that gave it problems in the past.
The Rhinos beat the Bruins a year ago, 73-38, and were winners against the Brunswick in 2016, 65-35.
“We lost to them in the past, so we made a statement in our first game today,” Brunswick junior guard/co-captain Kevonne Wilder said. “Our team had the mentality that we were going to come out here on our home court and protect our house.”
The 6-foot-5 Wilson scored 16 of his 25 points during the second half and Okpara, who also stands 6-5, tallied 11 second-half points for the victors.
“A lot of ball movement helped us and we knocked down a lot of shots,” Wilson said. “It’s a really big win. Taft is one of the better teams we’ll probably play this year. But it’s just our first game, so we have to keep working.”
Sophomore guard Sky Bell paced Taft’s balanced scoring effort with 11 points. The Rhinos held a 56-52 lead on the Bruins with 2:25 remaining, but did not score the rest of the game.
Wilson converted a jump shot and sophomore guard Tristan Joseph swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key, giving the Bruins the lead for good at 57-56 with 1:36 remaining in the second half. Senior forward Ryan Mulshine’s putback and a pair of free throws from Joseph, put the home team in front, 61-56 with 57.6 seconds left to play.
Three foul shots in the final by Okpara sealed the Bruins’ comeback win.
“Overall, I loved how intense we played on the defensive end,” Brunswick coach Steve Juricek said. “They have two of the top shooters in the NEPSAC on their team, so our whole game plan was about closing out on them and making them put the ball on the floor. We did a very nice job of that.”
Joseph scored seven of his 13 points in the second half for Brunswick, which stepped played effective defense down the stretch.
“After we hit the three to take the lead we had a lot of momentum and we felt like we could win the game,” Joseph said. “Our defensive intensity was strong throughout the game.”
Behind 3-pointers from Bell and senior Ben Barrett, Taft jumped out to a 9-2 lead. Not fazed, the Bruins went on a 17-2 run to take a 19-11 advantage.
Okpara scored six points and Wilson and Joseph had four points apiece during the Bruins’ first-half spurt. Joseph’s basket off a spin move made it 19-11 with 8:58 to go in the opening half. Taft responded, ending the first half with a 21-7 run. Seniors Connor Printz and Tyler Arbuckle scored eight and 10 points, respectively, for the Rhinos, who entered halftime with a 32-26 edge.
Wilson scored seven of Brunswick’s first 10 points of the second half to tie the score at 36-36 with just under 12 minutes remaining in the half. Showing plenty of range, Wilson and Joseph flourished from the perimeter, while Okpara aggressively drove to the basket.
“Our defense helped a lot and our bench helped us a lot with their encouragement,” Okpara said. “It feels good to get this win, hopefully, we’ll continue our momentum.”
Said Juricek of the team’s solid defensive play: “We stuck with our game plan of making them go deeper into their shot clock, which came to fruition toward the end of the game.”
Here’s a look at this season’s Bruins.
AT THE HELM: Juricek is beginning his second season as coach of the Bruins. His assistants are Shawn Harris and Zach Dobbs. The Bruins, who went 6-17 last winter, look much improved this year.
“We are more experienced this year,” Juricek said. “We have four guys in our starting lineup, we got a lot of minutes last year and it shows.”
GUARDS: Wilder, Joseph, senior captain Will Prout, sophomore Aidan Reilly, junior Cedrick Lafleur, senior Charlie Wall and junior Sam Mazzulo comprise the Bruins’ backcourt.
FORWARDS: Wilson seems primed to build upon last year’s solid sophomore season. Okpara will be a key contributor on both ends of the court in his first season on the squad. Ben Burns (senior), Colin Mulshine (sophomore), Henry Caponiti (freshman) and Ryan Mulshine (forward) provide depth to the frontcourt.
STRENGTHS: “We are pretty strong at the guard position and we have great guys coming off the bench,” Wilder said. “If we can get everyone to contribute we’ll be better than last year.”
Said Joseph: “Both Kevonne and I see the floor pretty well and we can dish it to players like Chishom and Khari.”
Brunswick (1-0) hosts Millbrook Wednesday at 5 p.m.