Before this past weekend, Cornell had been coasting under the radar, going about its business without many outside of Ithaca taking notice. These days, it’s hard to get attention in the Ivy League if you’ve never had Harvard printed across your chest. A Top 25 ranking and an alumnus starting for the New York Knicks makes for a pretty compelling story. Whatever room was left on the back pages has gone to the only two teams thought to be contenders for the crown: Penn and Yale. It’s hard to blame the casual fan for not paying Cornell much attention. As I’ve been saying for a few weeks, the Big Red has been about what everyone expected this season. No points too high, no points too low. A split against Columbia. One of two at home against the Ps. A loss at Harvard. A win at Dartmouth. A 3-3 conference record. Sounds about right. No real story in that.
This week though, Cornell is deserving of a little pub, a little recognition. It’s not only that Cornell managed a sweep of Yale and Brown, it’s how it was done. Early Friday night, all of Cornell’s nightmares were coming true. To say Yale started hot and Cornell started cold would have been a serious understatement. The Bulldogs came out dominating this game, utilizing every strength and exploiting every Cornell weakness. The front court duo of Greg Mangano and Jeremiah Kreisberg accounted for 9 of the game’s first 14 points. Yale was out-rebounding the Big Red 16-5 (with seven of those boards coming on the offensive glass) and Cornell was shooting the ball poorly from the outside. For a while, it felt as though Yale was one play away from breaking the game open and waltzing to its fourth consecutive victory and eighth in nine attempts.
Of course, this is not how it went down. Johnny Gray’s outburst and Chris Wroblewski’s resurgence changed the course of this one. Before the matchup with Yale, Gray was having a tough season shooting the basketball. Entering the weekend, Gray was shooting 11 of 54 from behind the arc, just a shade above 20% and 13 percentage points below what he shot last season. Opposing coaches were taking notice of Gray’s struggles. After Columbia dismissed Cornell in New York City, Lions head coach Kyle Smith was asked by a student reporter if Gray’s 12 points off the bench surprised him. The second year head coach
responded, “Yes, it really did. I think he even hit a 3. On film, he was not shooting the ball like that.”
One three pointer surprised Kyle Smith. One. How about going 6 of 8 from deep including the go-ahead triple with 12 seconds left in regulation and two clutch threes in overtime? Clearly if Columbia had a game left against Cornell, Smith would be singing a different tune.
The Big Red now sit at 5-3 in league play, a half game ahead of Princeton for 4th place. This point in the season is when Bill Courtney’s team caught fire a year ago, winning four of its last five and six of its last nine. At 5-3, Cornell has set itself up to be in a much better position if it can get hot again. If Chris Wroblewski continues to play like a senior, Johnny Gray stays hot, Drew Ferry sees some more open looks, and the freshmen continue to develop, there is no reason why we can’t expect a strong ending and a top half finish for the Red. Even if all goes right, Cornell may not see any hardware, but if teams aren’t careful, Cornell may play a big role in deciding who does.