Cornell men’s basketball can’t mount comeback at No. 18 Baylor

Cornell men’s basketball had an opportunity to mount an improbable comeback against No. 18 Baylor on Tuesday but ultimately fell short, 98-79.

Down 70-48 with 16 minutes remaining, the Big Red (10-3) ripped off a 15-0 run over the next six minutes to cut the deficit down to seven. During that stretch, Cornell had opportunities to get closer. Throughout six Baylor (11-2) possessions, Cornell managed to score just two points from a series of misses and forced turnovers.

But when Cornell got its deficit down to 70-63, the Big Red couldn’t get any closer. NBA draft prospect Ja’Kobe Walter nailed one of his four triples, igniting a sold out crowd as the Bears christened their brand-new Foster Pavilion. Baylor cruised ahead by as many as 23 in the waning minutes to eventually win by 19.

More than anything, though, the game was decided in the first half as the Bears scorched the Big Red for 58 points in the opening frame. Baylor shot 60% from the field and connected on eight triples, heading into the locker room with momentum as Walter nailed a three at the horn.

Cornell, however, still found its offensive success, scoring 42 points off 55% shooting. Junior guard Nazir Williams, who’s gotten off to a slow start this season after an offseason knee procedure, exploded for 14 points off the bench in the first 20 minutes to keep the Big Red in the mix. He finished the game with 17 points.

Seniors Chris Manon and Isaiah Gray each scored 12 points, getting most of their points in their typical downhill, slashing approach. Manon shot 50% from the field while Gray missed just twice (5-for-7).

The biggest positive: the second-half defense. Cornell responded well in the final 20 minutes and restricted Baylor to 50% shooting and 40 points. For a team that’s No. 1 in the country in three-point shooting and third in KenPom’s adjusted offensive effeciency, that’s something to build on. For reference, Cornell is No. 240 in adjusted defensive effeciency.

Junior Guy Ragland Jr. came off the bench for nine points, and senior Keller Boothby had eight in his homecoming game. An individual positive was fellow Texan Evan Williams. He went scoreless in six minutes, but the Big Red seemed the most connected on the defensive end while he was in the game. The senior forward from Murphy, Texas had four rebounds and could be an important piece in Cornell’s rotation.

The Big Red have a week off before commencing conference play on Tues., Jan. 9 in a rare weekday Ivy League game against Columbia. The game is set for 6 p.m. at Newman Arena.