While hundreds of thousands of people came to New York to protest Penn’s first-ever President of the United States on Saturday, the Cornell basketball team came to the Big Apple to challenge its own Ancient Eight foe. Depending on one’s political views, the results for the marchers was inconclusive. No matter which Ivy Leaguer one supported in the recent election, however, there was no disputing the Big Red’s victory in avenging their loss to Columbia one week earlier.
With the Columbia students back from winter break, Levien Gymnasium was packed and the crowd was ready for the Lions to move to 2-0 at the start of conference play. With Robert Hatter, Cornell’s second leading scorer and primary ball handler, on the sidelines with a knee injury, things looked good for Columbia. Even with the loss of another starter, the Big Red looked calm and relaxed as the team completed its warmups. The Lions, however, appeared more serious as game time approached.
Cornell hit five of its first seven shots, including two three-pointers, to jump out to a 12-4 lead by the first media timeout. After that, things slowed down as the Red scored two more points over the next nine minutes. With just over seven minutes to go in the first half, the Lions had taken advantage of Cornell’s sloppy play to take a 15-14 lead. Cornell recaptured the lead and extended it to six, before the Lions clawed back to go in front 24-23 with 3:24 to go. The two teams went back and forth until the Red scored the last four points of the half to go into the locker room with a 31-28 lead.
The Big Red shot 58 percent overall and 60 percent from three in the first half. Surprisingly, Cornell flipped the script by focusing more on its inside game. Coming into the game, the Red had taken 46 percent of attempts from three and 54 percent from two. In the early part of Saturday’s tilt, Cornell put up 79 percent its shots from inside. Despite its strong percentages, Cornell had 16 turnovers, which contributed to its long scoring drought in the middle of the half.
For Columbia, the first-half shooting was troubling with 28 percent overall (10-for-36) and 18 percent (2-for-11) from three. With these numbers, the Lions stayed in the game, thanks to Cornell’s turnovers, hitting six of seven free throws and 7 offensive rebounds that contributed to 12 more shots than the Red.
In the second half, the Lions opened the half on an quick 8-2 run to take a 36-33 lead. With just over 13:30 remaining, Columbia had increased its advantage to six. Just as the Lions looked to break the game open, Matt Morgan and Stone Gettings hit back-to-back threes, the first for Cornell after going 0-for-6 from long distance in the second half. This pattern of Columbia jumping out to a four- or five-point lead before having Cornell tie the contest was repeated two more time over the next several minutes.
After the Lions pulled ahead 55-54 with 3:36 remaining, the Red reclaimed the lead following a huge offensive rebound from Jack Gordon and a jumper from Wil Bathurst. A three-pointer from Morgan with 1:36 to go allowed Cornell to stretch the lead to four. With Cornell’s lead up to six with 0:46 to go, Columbia’s Nate Hickman got fouled on a successful layup, but failed to convert the old-fashioned three-pointer.
Following Cornell’s Troy Whiteside going 1-for-2 from the line, the Lions’ Luke Petrasek got a layup and Rodney Hunter stole the ball from Morgan with 0:30 remaining. When Cornell had a similar final chance at last week’s game in Ithaca, Whiteside dribbled the ball away. On this night, Petrasek was able to attempt a tying three-ball, but he missed the mark and Bathurst came down with the defensive rebound. After two more free throws, Cornell was able to come away with its first league win, and the first conference victory for head coach Brian Earl.
The Red returned back to its large three-point shooting form in the second half. Unfortunately for Cornell, it shot 3-for-18 (17 percent). They did make up for it by going 7-for-9 from two and 13-for-15 from the charity stripe. The team also helped itself out by limiting its turnovers to six that half. Columbia improved its shooting in the second stanza, hitting 34 percent overall and 33 percent from three (4-for-12).
The biggest difference as the game came down to the wire was free throw shooting. The Lions, who had gone 10-for-13 up until the last four minutes of the game, missed five of their last nine attempts. Cornell, however, a team that has a paltry 67 percent from the charity stripe all season, hit eight of 10 in that same period.
For Columbia, the disappointing late free throw shooting was emblematic of an entire night of offensive struggles. Whether poor shooting, improved Cornell defense, or a combination of both, the Lions had trouble from inside and outside. Cornell had no answer for Smith’s speed, but the first-year point guard, who led the team with 24 points, only went 8-for-21. Petrasek, who torched the Red for 31 last week, scored only eight points on 3-for-12 shooting (0-for-6 from three).
After the game, Lions coach Jim Engles noted Cornell’s improved rim protection and the Red’s points in the paint (28 to 18 for Cornell; 30 to 42 for Columbia) compared to the previous game between the two teams. While the team’s offense was more stable than its defense earlier in the season, the defense appears more predictable at this point of the season. With Harvard and Dartmouth coming to New York next weekend, the Lions need to put this loss behind them and quickly rebalance their game.
As Earl and his team waited for the bus back to Ithaca, there was that same relaxed atmosphere seen just a few hours earlier. Despite the loss of several important players throughout the season, the team has adapted the demeanor of its young head coach, taking the ups-and-downs in stride and continuing to develop a winning style of basketball. With a successful night for the men’s and women’s teams, all the Red players and coaches were able to have an enjoyable four-hour trip to Ithaca, as they get ready for the start of classes and the resumption of the Ivy slate on Friday night.