On Saturday night, as the Lynah Faithful filled the hockey arena for a preseason contest against Brock University, a slightly more modest crowd populated Newman Arena to watch the Cornell men’s basketball team take part in the annual Red-White Scrimmage. While the team did have three contests in Spain this August, Saturday night’s event marked the unofficial beginning of the team’s 2016-17 campaign and the crowd’s first glimpse of its new coach, Brian Earl.
The Red team consisted of Darryl Smith, Donovan Wright, Matt Morgan, Will Bathurst, Josh Warren, Kyle Brown, and Joe Bayless, while the “White” squad had David Onuorah, Robert Hatter, Desmond Fleming, Stone Gettings, JoJo Fallas, and Jack Gordon. On the sidelines for the scrimmage were Troy Whiteside, Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof, Braxston Bunce, Joel Davis and Pat Smith. After two 12-minute halves, the “Red” team defeated the White by a score of 57-46.
The Red team was led by Sophomore Matt Morgan, who scored 20 points. Morgan, a Second-Team All-Ivy selection in 2015-16, shot 3-for-4 from two-point range, 4-for-7 from beyond the arc and 2-for-3 from the charity stripe. Second-year Donovan Wright scored 14 points, going 2-for-4 from two-point, 3-for-4 from three-point range and 1-for-2 from the free throw line. Junior Wil Bathurst and first-year Josh Warren each scored six points. Junior Kyle Brown put in five points, sophomore Joe Bayless contributed four points, and senior tri-captain Darryl Smith added two points.
Sophomore forward Stone Gettings led the White team with 16 points, going 5-for-8 on two-pointers and 2-for-4 from three. Senior tri-Captain Robert Hatter put in 15 points on 4-for-7 from two-point range and 2-for-6 from beyond the arc. Senior JoJo Fallas added nine points on three second-half three-pointers. Senior tri-captain David Onuorah put in four points, and sophomore Jack Gordon scored two points.
According to new coach Brian Earl at last week’s Ivy League media teleconference, Morgan is a gym rat who is spending time making his shooting even better, while trying to strengthen his ability to assist. On Saturday night, his outside shooting, especially his three-pointers, looked effortless and he seemed to be working on increasing his distributions. Robert Hatter appeared completely healed from the ankle injury that forced him out of several early Ivy League games and hampered his play the rest of the season. He was running the point effectively, and getting the front court involved all game. In the second half, his shooting touch warmed up and he put in 10 of his 15 points from a variety of inside and outside shots. Fallas, who was ninth in the Ivies in three-point field goal percentage last year, also caught fire in the second half, hitting his last three long-range shots.
While the guards were showing signs of development from last year, the bigger difference was in front court. Getttings, who averaged 2.0 points a game last season, revealed a variety of offensive moves, including strong three-point shooting and several hook shots. Wright, who missed all of the 2015-16 season following an injury after starting the team’s first two scrimmages, was also able to hit from all parts of the court and got the attention of the crowd on several occasions with his athletic finishes. The 6-foot-8 Warren had a good ability to play close to the basket, a confidence to take shots down low, and the loudest support from his teammates. Onuorah is in excellent shape and was the most dominant rebounder.
With the arrival of Earl, who played for Princeton from 1995-99 and was on the Tigers’ coaching staff from 2007-16, it would be understandable if the team started to run a version of the Princeton offense. However, at the coach’s introductory press conference, he noted that he prefers to adapt to his players instead of having them adapt to him. On Saturday night, fans could see the coach’s ability to maximize the team’s strengths.
Both teams used their natural speed to push the ball, but there was more control on both sides of the ball. Offensively, there was much more balance between the front and back court compared to last season. On defense, there was solid coverage without pressing. This may not have caused many turnovers, but it resulted in less fouling and easy buckets for the offense.
While only a scrimmage, the game showed that the Red should continue to put up points. Fortunately for the team, opponents will now have to contend with front and back court players who have the ability to shoot from all parts of the court, in transition and half court sets. Less certain is the defensive side.
Last season, teams shot 44 percent overall and 36 percent from three, which were the second and first highest percentages in the Ancient Eight, respectively. In rebounding, the team was last in the league in rebounds per game and rebounding margin. Since the coach was heavily involved in the Princeton defense the last four seasons, has added front court depth, and has already shown an ability to use his players’ skills in a more controlled way, improvement should occur on that side of the ball even if it takes longer than the offensive results.
At last year’s press conference, Athletic Director Andy Noel read an email from a former teammate of coach Earl that stated, “What I think you recognized during the interview process is that despite Brian’s boyish looks, on the court he will rip your heart out and wink at you as the ball is going through the net. Players who want to win have that same knack to them, and they will gravitate to and then follow Brian.”
In the Ivy League preseason poll, Cornell was picked seventh. While experts are unanimous in their choices of Princeton, Harvard and Yale in the top three, there is greater fluctuation in predictions for teams four through eight. While winning its first regular season league title since 2010 seems out of reach, the team does have a legitimate chance at an appearance in the first ever Ivy League Postseason Tournament. On Saturday night, the players’ efforts matched the unassuming determination of their coach. As the Nov. 11 season opener at Binghamton approaches, fans of the Big Red should feel confident that this is a program that has started to turn a corner, and its opponents should be looking out for that wink.