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 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.

2022-23 IHO Men’s Preseason Poll

Only five points separated the top three teams in the Ivy League Men’s Basketball Preseason Poll, and our final tabulation was even tighter. Just three points separated the team atop IHO contributors’ preseason poll.

Yale gets the slight nod here, with our contributors trusting James Jones to lead the Bulldogs to their fifth Ivy League title in an eight-season span in a bid to represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament for a third straight time. Penn, the Ivy League preseason poll’s top team above Princeton by a single point, also finished a single point above Princeton in our standings. Our contributors saw potential for success in a roster that returns most of the key players from last year’s squad that placed third in the Ivy standings. We’ve got Princeton pegged to finish third, aided in their quest to repeat as Ivy League champions by returning 2021-22 Ivy Player of the Year Tosan Evbuomwan but losing significant backcourt production from last year’s conference title team.

Harvard was the clear No. 4 finisher in our poll, a showing that would improve upon the disappointing sixth-place result that locked the Crimson out of the Ivy League Tournament on its home floor last season. We have Cornell ranked slightly ahead of Brown as the Big Red look to build on last season’s overachieving Ivy League Tournament berth and the Bears look to bounce back from an underachieving sixth-place finish (tied with Harvard) a season ago. Columbia and Dartmouth tied in our voting tally at the bottom of the standings as both programs look to secure their first Ivy League Tournament appearances.

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No. 1 Princeton men survive No. 4 Cornell, 77-73, to advance to Ivy League Tournament final

Ivy Player of the Year Tosan Evbuomwan lived up to that honor down the stretch of Princeton’s 77-73 Ivy League Tournament semifinal win over Cornell, scoring 14 points in the final 10:14 to lead the Tigers to victory. (photo by Erica Denhoff)

No. 1 Princeton and No. 4 Cornell combined to give us one of the best games in Ivy League Tournament history Saturday.

But it was the Tigers who drew final blood against the Big Red, advancing to the tournament final, with Player of the Year Tosan Evbuomwan hitting the game-winning shot with 36 seconds left to push Princeton past a persistent Cornell squad in a 77-73 barnburner.

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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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Cornell men exceeding expectations in impressive 8-1 start

Most people overlooked Cornell ahead of this season. Picked seventh in the Ivy League poll, many expected the Big Red wouldn’t be much of a factor and that the team would likely win few games.

But a month into the season, the Big Red are well on their way to 10 wins before conference play even starts.

Nobody expected the Big Red to start 8-1. With nearly a brand new roster, Brian Earl’s squad has already won more games than the entire 2019-20 season, a team led by now-Syracuse star Jimmy Boeheim.

“It’s really fun,” senior forward Kobe Dickson said after a win over Canisius last week. “I love these guys [and] it’s nice to be winning with them.”

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Cornell men never trail in 89-75 victory over Canisius

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Cornell men’s basketball continued a trend Big Red fans haven’t seen much of since the days of Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale and Jeff Foote.

Winning.

With its second consecutive victory in which the team never trailed, Cornell won its sixth game of the season on Monday, defeating the Canisius Golden Griffins, 89-75.

“I thought we played well for a while,” coach Brian Earl said. “Somewhere in the second half, we lost track of ourselves … It’s good to get a win.”

Cornell (6-1) jumped out to a 16-6 lead over Canisius (2-5) after three-pointers from sophomores Sean Hansen and Keller Boothby to set an early tone. The two scored 10 points and eight points, respectively.

“It’s good to get those guys to come in and have confidence,” Earl said. “Most guys have the green light to shoot if they can shoot.”

The Golden Griffins fought back to trail by just two points with 9:39 to go in the first half, but a 25-11 run sparked off 57% shooting as a team gave the Big Red a 46-30 advantage at the break.

Cornell continued its hot shooting early in the second half, opening on an 11-2 run sparked by two three-pointers from junior guard Jordan Jones. He scored 14 points off 5-for-7 shooting.

“I rep them in practice and I rep them over the summer,” Jones said. “It’s just about putting them together in the games for me. I had a good little start, but I hadn’t been hitting too many shots recently, so now it’s just about getting back to business.”

The Big Red led by as many as 27 points, but technical fouls on Jones and reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Week Nazir Williams gave the Golden Griffins some momentum. Canisius narrowed its deficit to just 12 points with six minutes remaining, but Cornell held on for the 14-point victory.

“We just have to figure out how to act like winners,” Earl said. “It’s just unnecessary comments to everybody. Stuff that’s not college basketball … It’s about being mature in a space we haven’t been in a lot, and that’s having a winning record.

Senior forward Kobe Dickson led Cornell in the scoring column, posting a career-high 17 points off 7-for-9 shooting.

“It was nice to see the ball go in the hoop finally,” Dickson said. “Me being able to shoot opens up the middle of the lane for cuts, so defenses can’t sink off me and clog up the lane.”

Junior guard Greg Dolan returned to hometown Buffalo for the first time collegiately, scoring 12 points off perfect 5-for-5 shooting and dishing eight assists.

“Fun to be back in town,” Dolan said. “My sister plays here, my dad works here, so it was fun to go out on the court we always played on as little kids.”

Cornell shot 62% from the field, higher than its free-throw percentage at 58%. The Big Red connected on 11 of 22 three-point attempts, hitting more than 10 for the fourth time this season.

“It’s good to make those shots,” Earl said. “We’re not going always to be able to shoot so well from the field, and you are going to have to rely on those moments when you get to the line.”

For Canisius, Malek Green scored 19 points and Scott Hitchon scored 16. The Golden Griffins shot 38% from the field, 21% from deep and lost the rebound battle, 37-31.

Next, Cornell welcomes Coppin State in the first leg of a two-game homestand on Friday. The Eagles have played 10 games in three weeks to open the season at a 1-9 clip and will come to town after a game at St. Bonaventure on Wednesday.

“They have to play a tough schedule,” Earl said. “They are all over the place for their reasons. We’ve got to respect them as much as we can and make sure we do what we do.”

Takeaways from the Cornell men’s solid 2-0 start

Just one Ivy League men’s basketball team remains undefeated through a week of action, and it isn’t either conference favorite in Harvard or Yale. Instead, it’s the Cornell Big Red, searching for their first 3-0 start in 25 seasons on Tuesday against Colgate at Newman Arena.

Cornell doesn’t have the star power its opponents have, but the team has shown its depth through season-opening wins at Binghamton and Lafayette. The team has also shown resiliency, coming up with big stops and timely shot-making in 76-69 and 90-85 victories over the Bearcats and Leopards, respectively.

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