An unlikely comeback generates more optimism for Cornell men

Trailing by 11 with under five minutes to go, a win seemed unlikely for the Cornell men against Delaware. But a 20-2 run to finish the game shocked the Blue Hens as the Big Red escaped with a 74-67 victory.

Cornell faced a Delaware squad just months removed from an NCAA Tournament appearance, and the team returned many key pieces. It’s a significant victory against a quality mid-major opponent.

Frankly, Cornell probably didn’t deserve to win that game. Delaware pushed a 10-0 run in the ensuing minutes before Cornell’s dramatic comeback. But it’s a telling victory.

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Cornell men overcome early deficit to defeat Monmouth, notch fifth straight win

Eleven minutes into Friday’s post-Thanksgiving matinee, the Cornell men faced an 18-9 deficit to Monmouth — essentially the first time they trailed since opening night against Boston College.

But over the next 22 minutes, the Big Red hauled a 39-point swing, leading by as many as 30 and defeating the Hawks, 81-63.

Cornell (5-1) found many open looks in the opening minutes but failed to knock shots down. The Big Red were stuck on eight points for well over six minutes when a Greg Dolan three-pointer finally broke the drought after Nazir Williams split free throws.

From that point on, three-pointers rained down. Cornell connected on 14 throughout the afternoon and relied on the long ball to a 39-27 lead at the half. The Big Red opened the second half on a 9-2 run and continued to pull away, finally peaking at a 71-41 lead with 7:54 remaining.

Coach Brian Earl started to sub his starters and role players out for bench players, and Monmouth (0-6) cut the lead down to 18 in the final minutes.

Cornell, once again, played to its strengths — unselfish basketball. The team shot 52% from the field and 11 different players scored points. Keller Boothby led the way with 12 points off four three-pointers and Chris Manon, one of the team’s best pure scorers, scored 12 off the bench. Nazir Williams scored 11 points and Max Watson scored 10.

Five in a row

After losing to Boston College, Cornell has won straight games. Granted, two were against Division lll schools, but it still feels like a significant accomplishment.

Last year, the Big Red opened the season 8-1 before losing to Virginia Tech and Syracuse of the ACC. Regardless, a nonconference record well above .500 seems like something to celebrate, and that’s where Cornell is trending this year.

They do have several tough challenges ahead, though. They’ll play Delaware next, a team who made the NCAA Tournament in March and gave Villanova a game. They’ve got Miami, fresh off a trip to the Elite 8, and Syracuse, a team they haven’t beaten since 1968. Don’t forget Colgate, who has won the Patriot League three of the last four years, either.

Opportunities against Lafayette, Lehigh and Binghamton are where Cornell will need to take advantage of inferior opponents. Not to say they can’t beat anyone, because they’ve looked impressive early on.

But put this in perspective: Earl won eight games his first season. He won just seven games in 2019-20. Five wins in a row shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s an important milestone for this up-and-coming program.

 

Cornell men spread wealth, hold off Canisius late, 79-70

ITHACA, N.Y. — After an uptempo first half saw the Cornell men score 45 points and shoot 53% from the field, Canisius managed to slow the Big Red down and claw back into the game. Jordan Henderson hit four consecutive three-pointers for the Golden Griffins and Tahj Staveskie hit two to cut their deficit down to five with 1:46 remaining, but the Big Red came up with timely stops in the final 90 seconds to defeat Canisius, 79-70.

“We pulled away a bit in the beginning and just couldn’t finish the job,” said Cornell coach Brian Earl. “We got a little bit nervous, especially in the beginning of the second half just not taking what we had in front of us.

“We’ve got to take a look at where some of the errors were. [Henderson and Staveskie] are good players, and we were sort of hoping they wouldn’t get open and they did and they made it.”

Nazir Williams notched his first career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, pacing a balanced scoring output for the Big Red. Guy Ragland Jr. also scored 12 off 3-for-5 perimeter shooting and Greg Dolan had 11 points and five assists. Isaiah Gray, Keller Boothby and Chris Manon each had 10.

“Tonight was a little different night, I really couldn’t make any shots,” said Williams, who went 5-for-9. “Just trying to find out what else I can do on the court if I’m not scoring – rebounding, passing and everything turned out fine.

Williams noted that playing defense can generate more energy on offense.

“Even though I’m not hitting shots, I can still always get to the rim to find my teammates, and my teammates hit shots,” Williams said.

Williams hit a contested runner with 1:13 left to put the game away after Canisius trimmed the lead to single-digits.

“We really needed that shot,” Williams said. “Down the stretch, we wanted to get good shots and I felt like I had an advantage that play.”

Cornell led by as many as 15 points in the second half. The Big Red opened the second half shooting 3-for-13 from the field, which prevented them from putting away the Golden Griffins, who went 3-for-15.

Buying into the system

Earl introduced an uptempo version of the Princeton offense last season after the Ivy League did not participate in athletics in the 2020-21 season. The Princeton offense is typically slower, not a 10-second-style system.

Earl spent the off year creating and implementing the system to prepare for the return of Ivy basketball. But he needed the team to buy into it and believe in him.

“Coach implemented a system last year – we fully bought in,” Williams said. “You’re really starting to see the great lengths we can take this, just everybody feeding off each other and sharing the ball, making shots.

“Most of us are sophomores and juniors now, it’s like we were all freshmen last year because the sophomores didn’t get to play [during 2020-21]. Just getting that experience [last year], a lot of guys averaging double-digit minutes. We just lean off our leaders if we need them, Greg [Dolan], Marcus [Filien], Sean [Hansen] — they’ve all been here before.

Cornell lost Sarju Patel, Kobe Dickson and Dean Noll to the transfer portal after their senior seasons last year. Jordan Jones entered the portal after his junior year but isn’t playing collegiately this year.

Earl added six newcomers ahead of this season, five of which are freshmen. The lone transfer, Max Watson, from Salt Lake Community College, is the only newcomer regularly playing in Earl’s system. The rest of the core this season played valuable minutes in 2021-22, which is an advantage under Earl’s unique system.

“Experience is always a thing that gets you to understand how what you want to do and what you want to stay away from,” Earl said. “It was good to get some help last year. A lot of teams have been able to scout us a little bit, too, so it’s been a little bit harder in that way.

“[Watson] has hit the ground running and we have some younger guys who are still learning stuff.”

Cornell returns to action on Saturday, when it faces Monmouth in West Long Branch, N.J. The game is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET on FloHoops.

 

Cornell men pick up where they left off by pushing tempo

The Cornell men have picked up right where they left off last season.

Through three games, the Big Red are 2-1. They lost at the buzzer on opening night to Boston College, 79-77, before routing SUNY Delhi in a lopsided 57-point laugher.

Cornell defeated Saint Francis (Pa.), 80-77 Monday despite surrendering multiple double-digit leads. The Big Red led 70-57 with 5:11 remaining, but several Cornell fouls gave the Red Flash opportunities at the free-throw line. Max Watson, a junior college transfer, split a pair of free throws in the closing seconds for the Big Red, and a St. Francis half-court heave missed the mark, securing the Cornell victory.

The impressive part about Cornell’s quick start has been the changed offensive approach from Cornell coach Brian Earl. A disciple of Pete Carril, Earl came to East Hill in 2016 with the typical slow, methodical Princeton offense. In the 2019-20 season, Cornell ranked 314th in adjusted tempo and 325th in average possession length, per KenPom.

But after a year off from the COVID-19 pandemic, Earl came into 2021 with a much quicker pace. Cornell ranked 16th in adjusted tempo and third in average possession length, per KenPom.

The Big Red have continued that trend this season. In three games, Cornell is 16th in adjusted tempo and 17th in average possession length amongst 363 Division l teams. In comparison, former Princeton teammate Mitch Henderson’s Princeton squad is 207th in adjusted tempo and 256th in average possession length after a convincing 94-64 win over UMBC Monday.

Cornell has also continued its balanced scoring approach. Seven players are averaging eight or more points through the Big Red’s first three contests, led by senior Greg Dolan at 15.7 points per contest. On Monday, Sean Hansen scored 26 points to lead the Big Red, blowing away his previous high of 13 points last season.

And the team has much more room to grow, too. Sophomore guard Nazir Williams, although scoreless Monday, has shown flashes of 20-point-per-game potential and has seemingly improved his decision-making. The same goes for junior guard Chris Manon, who is averaging 10.7 points per game.

Junior forward Keller Boothby, who shot 49% from deep last season, has made just six of his first 21 treys this season. That clip is sure to improve.

After Cornell faces crosstown foe Ithaca College on Friday, it enters the most crucial portion of nonconference play.

On November 22, the Big Red host Canisius, which is fresh off an overtime victory against St. Bonaventure. Three days later, Cornell travels to New Jersey to play Monmouth in its first season as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association. Six days later, the Big Red will travel to Delaware before heading home to battle Lafayette on December 4.

Games against Miami and Syracuse, both projected NCAA Tournament teams, are sandwiched around a 10-day break for exams.

We’ll know a lot more about this Cornell squad in the coming days and weeks. But so far, the Big Red seem to be clicking well. Earl is continuing to build in Ithaca, and the reigning Ivy League Coach of the Year is hungry to lead Cornell back to Ivy Madness and, potentially, the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 2010.

Cornell men finish regular season with convincing victory over Columbia

Saturday’s regular season finale didn’t mean much for the Cornell men, but in a different way than they are used to. The Big Red had already clinched the No. 4 seed in next weekend’s Ivy League Tournament and could not improve their standing in any way.

But Cornell did gain more of one thing — momentum.

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Harvard men hold on in overtime versus Cornell to stay competitive in Ivy Madness race

Noah Kirkwood kept Harvard very much in the Ivy League Tournament race with a 31-point, eight-rebound, four-assist performance in the Crimson’s 77-72 overtime win versus Cornell Saturday. (Photo by Erica Denhoff)

After a disappointing loss at Dartmouth Friday, the Cornell men had no time to ruminate. They had to travel to Harvard and try to maintain crucial Ivy League Tournament leverage versus the Crimson.

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Dartmouth men trip up Cornell in Ivy League Tournament race

Junior forward Dame Adelekun notched a career-high 19 points and eight rebounds in just 23 minutes in Dartmouth’s 71-59 win over Cornell Friday. (Photo by Erica Denhoff)

Cornell men made just 40% of its shots and turned the ball over 18 times at Dartmouth Friday night, falling 71-59, to the Big Green.

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Cornell men navigate gritty Dartmouth, secure victory in Ivy opener, 79-71

ITHACA, N.Y. — Dartmouth held a one-point lead at the half, but Cornell shot 60% in the second half and fended off several late rallies to win the Ivy League opener on Sunday, 79-71.

“It was exactly what the Ivy League is going to be like,” Cornell coach Brian Earl said. “[Dartmouth] knew exactly what we were going to do and we had to fight through it. They are a veteran team. It’s a pretty good win.”

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Cornell women prepare for Ivy League slate

For Dayna Smith’s Cornell squad, the start of the 2021-22 season has by no means been easy. In addition to a challenging nonconference slate, the team with just six returners from two seasons ago has battled injuries, illness and COVID-19 protocols through the first seven weeks of the new campaign.

“There’s been zero pouting, zero anger [and] lack of focus,” Smith said. “We’ve practiced with six people, we’ve practiced with seven people … The people we have with us are giving us everything they have.”

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