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.