Cornell blows 20-point second-half lead, suffers last-second loss to NJIT

The Cornell Big Red had a 20-point lead with 18:06 left in the game but choked it away as the NJIT Highlanders left Ithaca with a 59-58 win despite leading for just 46 seconds.

The Highlanders scored just 16 points in the first half off of 21% shooting. It was a combination of both great defense and awful offense. The Big Red (1-2) shot a decent 46% in the first half and held an 18-point lead at the break.

But after the lead got to 20 for the Big Red, it took just three minutes for the Highlanders (1-2) to cut the lead down to single digits. The lead stayed around eight to 10 points for most of the second half, but it went downhill for the Big Red after Josh Warren threw down a dunk to make the lead 10 with 4:22 left. NJIT went on an 11-0 run to take a one-point lead with 61 seconds left.

Cornell did respond. Josh Warren missed a three off a good look, but Terrance McBride battled to get the offensive rebound and basket with 38 seconds left.

“We struggled scoring in the second half, so I tried to take it upon myself and try and get the team a couple of good shots,” McBride said.

NJIT’s Zach Cooks drew a foul on the floor, shooting a one-and-one. He made both, and on the other end with five seconds left, Josh Warren went into the post and made a nice spin move to take the lead.

After a timeout, the Highlanders advanced the ball across halfcourt and called time again. This left them with about three seconds left to win the game, and they did so. Shyquan Gibbs hit a tough contested layup with half a second left, leaving the Big Red no time to get a shot off.

The Big Red were outscored 43-24 in the second half and allowed NJIT to shoot 57% from the floor while shooting just 37% themselves.

“In the second half, we just got tight,” Cornell coach Brian Earl said. “I don’t know how many bad shots we took offensively and missed.”

Terrance McBride and Josh Warren led the Big Red with 17 points and 14 points respectively. McBride ended up with four steals.

“Guys were down, they weren’t shooting the ball well, and I was just trying to do whatever my team needs me to do out there on the court, and tonight it was getting a couple buckets,” McBride said.

Warren was well-rounded again tonight, also hauling in eight rebounds and dropping four dimes.

Jimmy Boeheim and Thurston McCarty were very quiet tonight, Boeheim with just five points and McCarty scoreless. Boeheim didn’t have any looks in the first half, but by late in the second half, he had looks that he just wasn’t connecting on. McCarty got a few looks, but the ball was kept away from him too for the most part.

Dean Noll chipped in with nine points, Bryan Knapp with six, and Jordan Jones with five.

“We just gotta step up and make some shots. I mean, we were 1-for-13 in the second half (from three),” said Earl. “We work a lot on trying to figure out how to win games, so it gives us a good thing to look at to try to see how to do that. In the end, you’d rather be 3-0 and celebrating rather than 1-2 and lose by two combined points (to Bryant and NJIT).”

Cornell’s collapse amid a furious comeback comes a game after its own improbable comeback bid fell just short in an 82-81 loss at Bryant.

Zach Cooks, a 5-foot-9, 155-pound junior, led the Highlanders with 22 points (8-for-14), and Souleymane Diakite added 10 (4-for-7).

The Big Red were outrebounded by two (36-34), and turned the ball over 13 times compared to 10 for the Highlanders. The Big Red shot 20% from three in the game and 41% as a whole compared to 25% and 39% for NJIT.

Coming up, the Big Red have two straight games against power five teams in DePaul and Syracuse.

“It doesn’t look that way,” when Earl was asked if his team was prepared for their first big tests of the season. “We know what we’re up against, and that’s the way it goes for us, so we’ll do our best.”

The Big Red play DePaul on Saturday at 1 p.m. EST (noon CST) at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. The game will be broadcasted by the Fox Sports Network, airing on different channels with different providers and regions.

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