Cornell men’s basketball drops crucial game at Princeton, 79-77

When the final horn sounded at a sold out Jadwin Gymnasium, Cornell had to think back to last weekend.

The Big Red fell to Princeton 79-77 on Saturday, making it a split with the Tigers on the season. But that’s not what sunk Cornell in the fight for a share of the regular-season title and the top seed in Ivy Madness. The fatal flaw came last weekend, losing to Brown at Newman Arena.

Still, the Big Red could have redeemed themselves in front of a white-hot Princeton squad.

Slow starts had killed Cornell lately, but the Big Red jumped out to a 17-7 lead as Princeton coach Mitch Henderson burned two timeouts in the game’s first eight minutes. Expectedly, Princeton climbed back, tying the game up at 33 after senior guard Matt Allocco hit a three. Cornell junior guard Nazir Williams responded with a jumper of his own with three seconds left as the Big Red led by two at the break.

Trailing by seven early in the second half, Cornell came back and retook the lead, building a five-point margin with 4:21 remaining. Tied at 71 with less than 90 seconds on the clock, Princeton sophomore guard Caden Pierce skyed for the dunk and got the foul, converting a three-point play to give the hosts a permanent lead.

Pierce and Williams went tit for tat, each scoring 23 points. Pierce went 8-for-12 from the field while Williams went 8-for-14, both carrying their respective teams at times when their offenses fell silent. Allocco added 19 while sophomore guard Xaivian Lee registered 16 for the winners.

For Cornell, senior guard Chris Manon added 17, going 7-for-11 and adding six boards. But outside the likely all-Ivy duo, the Big Red didn’t get much offensive input as no other Cornellian had more than nine. Still, the visitors shot 48% from the field and connected on nine treys.

The loss sets up Cornell for the No. 3 seed for the Ivy League Tournament. Last year, Cornell lost to Yale as the No. 4 seed when the Bulldogs were the No. 1 seed.

Regardless, the Ivy League Tournament is wide open. Princeton and Yale have dominated all season along with the Big Red, and Brown, which clinched the No. 4 seed, has won its last five games. It’ll take two perfect games for any of the four teams to go dancing.

Cornell’s path to March Madness got tougher over its last three games. But don’t count out the Big Red whatsoever.

Next up: a trial run at Levien Gymnasium before the real deal in two weeks.