“At the under-12 [media timeout], #Terps hold a 26-5 lead [over Cornell]. Trying to figure out how much of this is #Maryland looking great and [how much of this is] #Cornell being awful.”
Those following Tuesday night’s Cornell vs Maryland matchup may recall reading the above Tweet after about eight minutes of basketball had been played. The author is someone who most likely had not watched more than eight minutes of Cornell Basketball to that point all season. However, he may be on to something. What was it? Maryland playing amazing? Cornell “being awful”? After the first ten minutes of game action, Maryland led Cornell 30-8.
Cornell is not a team that shy away from big time competition. Before Tuesday night’s matchup with Maryland, Cornell had played five BCS road-games under Bill Courtney. In each match-up, Cornell’s play in the opening ten minutes has dictated the tone of the game.
- 12/04/2010 – at #17 Minnesota – Cornell shoots 50% from the field in the first ten minutes – 2 point game with 1:22 to play.
- 12/19/2011 – at #19 Illinois – Cornell shoots 58% from the field in the first ten minutes – tie game with 1:54 to play.
- 12/21/2011 – at Penn State – Cornell shoots 50% from the field in the first ten minutes – 3 point game with 0:22 to play.
- 11/14/2010 – at Seton Hall – Cornell shoots 21.4% from the field in the first ten minutes – Trailed by as many as 33 before losing by 24.
- 11/30/2010 – at #7 Syracuse – Cornell shoots 25% from the field in the first ten minutes – Trailed by as many as 23 before losing by 20.
Coincidence? Maybe. But it seems like a large enough sample size to at least see a trend forming. Against good teams in hostile environments, when Cornell starts hot, it gains confidence and can play with anyone. When Cornell starts slow, it digs itself too deep of a hole.
So what happens when Cornell plays Maryland Tuesday night and takes almost eight minutes to connect on a field goal and only shoots 10% in the opening ten minutes?
What happens if during that same ten minutes, Maryland finds a way to channel its inner 1985 Villanova and shoots 91% from inside the arc?
What happens? Well, for one Tweets start flying left and right that read something like,
- “This is unreal hahaha!!! #Terps on an absolute roll!!! KILL Cornell by 80!” – @Scott_Kornberg
- “Holy crap Cornell is awful. Not complaining.” -@BMoreBirdsNest
- “Terps are already knocking the monocles off the faces of these Cornell geeks. Blowing out the big red 26-5. Let’s go #Maryland!” -@rymace
- “I want to win by 40. Let's win by 40.” -@testudotimes
How many would have guessed this would become a 1-point game with 2 minutes to play?
Cornell had to do something that has always given them problems: adjust. Most times when teams adjust, it results in the old sports idiom, “a tale of two halves.” The key to Cornell’s comeback was the Red did not let it get to that point. Cornell could not afford to wait until half-time to change. The three ball wasn’t working. Instead of continuing to bomb away to no avail, Cornell forced themselves to develop an inside game. In the first ten minutes, Cornell only attempted one two-point field goal. In the final ten minutes of the first half, Cornell actually outscored Maryland 18-11, on the heels of points in the paint by Cancer, Miller, Chemerinski, and Ferry.
The second half, things got even better for the Red. Cornell, continuing its newly found inside attack, scored four of its first five field goals of the half from inside the paint. Defensively, Cornell continued to utilize a strict 2-3 zone, forcing Maryland to become the team chucking threes without a hot hand. These adjustments are what made this a game for Cornell and what down the road could change them from a predictable team to a multi-dimensional foe.
Even though Cornell fell short yet again, for the first time, we saw a Bill Courtney-led Cornell team respond to an awful stretch of basketball the way it did against Maryland Tuesday night. Maybe it’s Courtney growing as a head coach. Maybe it’s his team gaining experience. Whatever it is, Cornell's ability to play with any team was no fluke. Cornell has competed with quality teams on multiple occasions and has done so in a variety of ways. This 5-game stretch should give Cornell fans the confidence that on any given night their team can compete and beat anyone in the Ivy League, even the mighty Harvard Crimson.
That said, Cornell still has not won a road game this season and is in the midst of a five game losing streak. How should we look at this? My colleague Sam Aleinikoff said it best,
“It's rare that a team loses 5 straight and looks better at 4-9 than it did at 4-4. But Cornell has done just that.”