Our Ivy weekend roundup features a raucous rematch, some Red and Crimson splitting, a No. 4 stepping to the fore and late-game strategy deja vu.
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.
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.
With the first-ever Ivy League Postseason Tournament, the regular season has focused on which teams would make it into the top four. In the preseason and the first two months of the campaign, Princeton, Yale and Harvard appeared certain to get to the Palestra for the second week of March. The first two weekends of conference play has confirmed those ideas. For most of the nonconference season, Penn seemed to take control of that fourth spot. While losing to Princeton at Jadwin Gym on the opening night of the league schedule, the Quakers showed enough on the offensive and defensive sides to justify those predictions. However, the Quakers’ two home losses this weekend showed that their path to the Palestra is uncertain and opened the fourth spot for all five lower division squads. After Saturday’s action in Philadelphia and Ithaca, Brown and Columbia took strong steps towards claiming the last spot in the top tier.
After completing finals, Cornell headed west to take part in the Las Vegas Invitational. After a week traveling from Wyoming to Los Angeles to Sin City, the Red left with a 1-3 record and a small amount of optimism heading into the last stretch of nonconference games.
With the continued absence of starting center David Onuorah and no reported return date, coach Brian Earl decided to replace forward Donovan Wright with guard Troy Whiteside. With the four-guard set, the team decided to focus on winning games by improving its offensive output.
Cornell will play its first game in two weeks when it visits Syracuse Tuesday evening at the Carrier Dome. Cornell is coming off a 78-62 win over Southeast Missouri State in Las Vegas, and the Orange are coming off an embarrassing 93-60 loss to St. John’s at the Carrier Dome, the worst home loss Syracuse has suffered in Jim Boeheim’s 41 seasons as coach.
To get us prepped for the game, we sat down with our friend Wes Cheng over at The Juice Online to get an Orange scouting report for the upcoming game.
On November 30, Cornell headed into its Finals Break by beating Northeastern, 80-77, for its first home and second overall win of the season. With the campaign set to resume on Saturday against 7-2 Wyoming, where do things stand for the 2-5 Big Red?
With the hiring of former Princeton player and associate coach Brian Earl, Cornell is moving away from the guard-oriented style that was favored by its previous coach. Since former coach Bill Courtney had only one recruit arriving at East Hill this fall, the new coach was going to have to work with the same team that was 10-18 overall and 3-11 in the Ivies last year.
Last year’s squad played at a fast tempo with pressure defense and one-on-one offense. This year’s team has attempted to slow down the pace on both sides of the ball while becoming a more balanced team that focuses on player and ball movement.
Cornell traveled to Easton, Pa., looking for its first victory of the season against Lafayette. Thanks to the team’s most complete effort of the year, as well as one of the school’s all-time best individual offensive performances, the Red emerged victorious, defeating the Leopards 82-75. Not only was it the team’s first time entering the win column this year, it was Coach Earl’s first career head coaching triumph.
Sophomore forward Donovan Wright knocked down 8 of 10 three-pointers, the third highest single game total in Cornell history. His 26- point outburst easily surpassed his previous career high of seven. In addition to Wright’s heroics, the other four starters each had double digit scoring. Stone Gettings, continuing his outstanding early season play, was just shy of a triple-double with 12 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. JoJo Fallas scored 11 points, on 3-for-4 three-point shooting. Matt Morgan and Robert Hatter added 13 and 12 points, respectively.
- Cornell had a one point lead, 10-9, after the first three and a half minutes. Over the next eight minutes, the Red took control and outscored the Leopards 24-5 to take a twenty point lead. Cornell let Lafayette recover over the last eight minutes, and ended with a 12-point lead, 44-32, at halftime. In the second half, Lafayette got the lead down to nine within the first few minutes, but Cornell was able to prevent any serious threat. With nine minutes left, the Red were able to open the lead back to 17 points, 62-45. Down 14 with less than a minute to go, Lafayette made its only real run of the contest, but it was too little too late.
For the first time all season, Cornell was able to run Coach Earl’s system well. They used great ball movement, especially in the first half, to get open looks from the perimeter and back door cuts. In contrast to the first three games, the Red were able to confidently knock down these shots. Defensively, they were too quick for Lafayette, got them out of their rhythm and reduced their early attempts from the three- point line.
For the game, Cornell had season highs with 52 percent overall shooting, 56 percent (14-for-25) from three and 19 assists. The squad also had a season-low 10 turnovers. Even with the absence of starting center David Onuorah, out for the third straight game with an illness, the Red were able to stay even in rebounding with 31.
Wright, who missed all of his first year with a shoulder injury, grew up in Easton. While not as prolific as Easton’s most famous citizen, former WBC Heavyweight Champion Larry Holmes this hometown hero was able to lift the spirits of his team and coach after a disappointing opening to the season. After today’s effort, Cornell can move forward knowing that it’s opponents now have to plan for one more player who can deliver a knockout blow.
On Wednesday night, Cornell had its home opener against Colgate. Coming into the contest, the Red had lost its first two games against Binghamton and Siena. The Red Raiders arrived with a 0-1 record, courtesy of a 28 point loss to Syracuse. The game was the 128th meeting between the upstate New York rivals, and the first matchup between coach Brian Earl of Cornell and coach Matt Langel of Colgate. The two coaches were friendly rivals during their playing days, Earl at Princeton and Langel at Penn, and childhood friends going back to the eighth grade.
Cornell began the Brian Earl Era this past weekend with two road contests against Binghamton and Siena. By late Sunday afternoon, the Red found itself with an 0-2 record to start the season.