Despite making their first five shots and pulling ahead to an 11-point lead just six minutes into the game, the Big Red faded late amid an 86-70 road loss to the Toledo Rockets.
Matt Morgan led the way for Cornell (5-6) with 24 points, connecting on two three-pointers and hitting all 10 of his free throws. Josh Warren had another solid night, finishing with 14 points on a 6-for-9 clip, while adding seven rebounds, six assists and two blocks. Jimmy Boeheim had eight points and two rebounds, and seven players for Cornell ranged between three and seven points on the night.
Cornell came out firing on all cylinders, hitting its first five shots, three from Morgan. The Big Red were up 13-5 at the first media timeout, and then up 19-8 minutes later. Then Toledo (11-2) went on a mega-run and took its first lead at 26-25 with 7:30 to go. Cornell found itself down 48-39 at the break but started the second half quickly thanks to a three from Morgan. Despite being in striking range for most of the second half, the Big Red just couldn’t string together enough stops to get closer than six down and finally ran out of steam with about seven minutes to go. Remember that the tilt with Toledo was Cornell’s third game in four days.
Without a doubt, Toledo is a great team and will be very competitive against No. 14 Buffalo for the automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament for the MAC. But Cornell didn’t play its best by any means.
For starters, Toledo doubled Cornell in rebounds, 44-22. Toledo had 15 offensive rebounds, compared to Cornell’s three. Willie Jackson and Luke Knapke combined for 18 of Toledo’s 44 total rebounds. That gave Toledo way too many possessions, and they cashed in on the free-throw line, shooting a fantastic 24-of-26. But on the other hand, Cornell was a perfect 12-of-12 from the line, led by Morgan’s 10 shots there.
But in the end, both teams shot 44 percent. Toledo had just one more make than Cornell from the field on only two more attempts.
Another issue for Cornell was foul trouble. Morgan picked up his second less than 10 minutes in, and had to be flip-flopped for a good portion of the game with players like Joel Davis and Bryan Knapp, then picked up a third foul early in the second half. Warren got to four fouls by the middle of the second half, and that led to Riley Voss getting some minutes, hitting a three-pointer for his lone make in the game.
Everybody who follows Ivy basketball knows how well Matt Morgan can shoot from three, and Toledo contained that well, only giving him five looks. Most games, you see him with give or take 10 attempts from three. I think that Cornell coach Brian Earl was hoping for a few more good three-point looks.
And the last thing that went wrong for Cornell, was containing Toledo’s star players. Jaelen Sanford had 29 points on just four misses and also turned in five rebounds and five assists. Three-point sniper Nate Navigato had 17 points off three long-balls.
Though Cornell shot just 44 percent, their offense wasn’t that bad. The Big Red missed a few open shots, but did their part on the free-throw line. They just need to find a way to score with Boeheim and Morgan off of the floor. When Toledo went on its first-half mega-run, both were off the floor. They need more production from the likes of Troy Whiteside, Steven Julian, and Terrance McBride. The ball movement is poor when Boeheim and Morgan are on the bench, and they struggle to get good looks. In any case, it doesn’t help them at all that Jack Gordon is injured. Warren is definitely his best with Morgan on the floor, and Morgan is so good at threading the needle to get the ball down low for the finish.
Their biggest offensive concern right now is Steven Julian. He is having trouble finishing down low, and has air-balled three three-pointers in the last two games. His shooting numbers have been dismal: 32 percent from the floor, 18 percent from three, and 55 percent from the line. Earl needs to find a way to get him to contribute more on offense, because this year he has been hurting them more than he’s helped them on that end. Though, he is a defensive specialist and added two more blocks today.
After the loss to Toledo, Cornell is now down to No. 241 in KenPom rankings, out of 353 Division l teams.
Cornell now flies down to Dallas to face SMU on Saturday at 8 p.m. EST. At 7-4, SMU is No. 98 in KenPom. The game will be live on ESPN3.