Cornell men’s basketball season ends in 88-83 loss at Ohio State in NIT

Two days removed from earning its first-ever bid to the National Invitational Tournament, Cornell men’s basketball had Ohio State on the ropes. Each team took swings with double-figure leads, but with a minute remaining, the Big Red led by two.

Fifth-year forward Jamison Battle knocked down a three with 43 seconds remaining, putting the Buckeyes up 82-81. Then came the first of two crucial mistakes for Cornell.
Junior guard Nazir Williams took the inbound and quickly went to the other end but stumbled and lost the ball. That resulted in a quick layup from freshman forward Devin Royal to put Ohio State up three.

The Big Red brought the ball up and coach Brian Earl took his last timeout. With 14 seconds left, senior guard Isaiah Gray rolled toward the hoop and missed a completely wide-open layup to cut it back down to one. Cornell had to foul and the Buckeyes made their free throws, shutting down the Big Red’s hope of their first Big Ten win in 14 years in an 88-83 Ohio State victory.

Cornell nearly pulled the upset without leading scorer Chris Manon, who didn’t play because of an injury. The senior guard sat at the end of the bench with a boot over his left foot and had to helplessly watch his career in Ithaca come to a sour close.

Still, others stepped up. Despite the costly miss, Gray led all scorers with 19 points off 8-for-10 shooting. He threw down another thunderous dunk, similar to his play that landed second on SportsCenter toward the end of the loss against Syracuse in December. Junior forward Guy Ragland Jr. came off the bench with 17 points while all-Ivy junior guard Nazir Williams registered 14. Sophomore sharpshooter Cooper Noard had 10 and rising freshman guard Jake Fiegan had nine.

The careers of Manon, Gray, Sean Hansen and Keller Boothby came to a close with the loss. All four have a year of eligibility remaining but can’t use it at Cornell or any other Ivy institution because of the league rules on graduate players.

Their time may have been brief, but they helped spark a massive program turnaround. The four led Cornell to a 22-8 record with an 11-3 Ivy clip — both bests since the 2010 Sweet 16 run. Each of their three seasons culminated with an Ivy Madness appearance, even though the Big Red lost each semifinal. They went a combined 54-30, as Earl had just 34 combined victories and one Ivy Madness appearance in the three seasons prior.

Still, Cornell has light at the end of the title. As long as the Big Red doesn’t lose pieces to the transfer portal, it’ll bring back a solid core. Williams has a year of eligibility and could be an early frontrunner for 2025 Ivy League Player of the Year. Noard, who had a breakout season, returns along with Ragland, who’s played starter’s minutes off the bench the last few seasons. AK Okereke developed into a rising star as a sophomore and both Fiegan and Jacob Beccles showed lots of potential as freshmen.

Will there be gaps to fill? Absolutely. Are the four-star seniors replaceable? Absolutely not. But better days lie ahead, even though a promising season ended with two disappointing losses.


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