ITHACA – The Tigers’ annual January hiatus has given me cabin fever. Last night I jumped on I-81 north to head up to Cornell to see what Brian Earl’s club could do against the vaunted Harvard freshmen. I wanted a firsthand look at the Tigers’ opponent next Saturday in Cambridge.
Brian Earl’s kids are buying in to what he is trying to do. Last night’s Cornell team is entirely different from the one that opened the season at Binghamton in a real stinker. The Big Red outshot, outrebounded, outscored and outplayed the talented Crimson – for 37 minutes. Harvard did what very good teams are supposed to do: it exerted its will and superior forces to spur a 13-2 run to close the game, managing to avoid a major stumble and steal a 77-71 heartstopper.
The Harvard freshmen make this one of the deepest and most talented rosters we have seen in this league in a very long time. Bryce Aiken, who does not start, scored 21 points in 23 minutes. He might be every bit as good as Chambers was as a freshman. The problem for Crimson foes is that Chambers is still here and he is playing very well. Edosomwan, the senior big man, did not start either. In fact he played only 15 minutes, which is a mystery to me because he was dominant while on the floor.
Cornell’s offense reminded this observer of Earl’s alma mater. Cornell cashed in on numerous back door cuts, often making it look easy. Earl was known as a smart, opportunistic and unselfish player. He has developed the ability to teach his players to employ the same style. His kids played hard all night and gave themselves a chance to win. In the end, however, too many turnovers against a quality opponent gave the Crimson a chance to win, too, and they knew how to take advantage.
The turning point came with Cornell leading 69-64 with about three minutes left. Stone Gettings missed the front end of a one-and-one, which seemed to let the air out of the balloon for the Big Red.
The Cornell team I saw last night can give any team in the league all kinds of problems. Don’t be surprised if the Big Red are in the hunt for the Ivy League Tournament’s No. 4 seed in the last week of the season.