It felt like a typical Ivy League game — hard-fought and not always pretty. But from the moment the Cornell and Dartmouth men tipped Sunday afternoon, it immediately felt like whoever had the most grit would walk away with a 1-0 conference record.
That team was Cornell.
The Big Red certainly didn’t play their best basketball of the season, but an 11-4 run in the final four minutes allowed Cornell to seal a 74-63 win at Leede Arena to open Ivy play.
Cornell made just 42% of its shots but hit its free throws — something it hasn’t done well this season. The Big Red hit 15 of their 18 shots — a crucial part of the victory.
The other part was clutch playmaking down the stretch. Senior guard Greg Dolan scored a game-high 15 points, including two from a key off-balance jumper with 2:33 remaining. Junior guard Isaiah Gray had 12 points off several acrobatic layups in the final 10 minutes and junior guard Chris Manon added 12.
Dartmouth threw the early punches. Senior forward Dame Adelekun posted a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double off 6-for-7 shooting, including a slam on the first possession of the game. The Big Green led for most of the first stanza before a Manon jumper with three seconds remaining gave the Big Red a 37-36 advantage at the half.
Cornell extended a 10-point lead seven minutes into the second half after a pair of Max Watson three-pointers, but Dartmouth fought back. The hosts were within four before the Big Red pulled back away in the final minutes.
Senior Cam Krystkowiak and sophomore Ryan Cornish each added 11 points for the Big Green. The team shot 47% from the field but connected on just 23% of its threes (6-for-26).
Dartmouth has lost its last six games. Its last win came on December 3, when the Big Green defeated Cal State Bakersfield, 79-54.
Time to contend
Before the Big Red hit the road again in Ivy play, they’ll return home for three games — all of which are major tests. With a strong homestand, Cornell will solidify its place in the conference conversation as Ivy contender.
On Friday, Cornell will host Penn, which opens Ivy play Monday against Brown. The Big Red have beaten the Quakers just once since former coach Steve Donahue took over in 2015. Then Cornell will host Princeton, the team that knocked the Big Red out of last year’s Ivy League Tournament, a night later.
On Jan. 13, the Big Red will host the defending Yale Bulldogs in a nationally televised ESPNU showcase. These are all opportunities for Cornell to show that it can compete with — and beat — the best in the league.
The Big Red are metrically having their best season in 12 years. They are No. 130 in KenPom. They have a top-60 offense. They have quality nonconference wins over Colgate and Delaware.
If Cornell can leave home with a sweep — or even two out of three — the Ivy League championship will become that much more distinct a possibility for the surging Big Red.