Head coach Marnie Dacko was a picture of disbelief and incredulity as she emerged from the locker room following a 69-67 overtime defeat to Ivy League rival Columbia.
“Unbelievable!” she muttered. “Twenty steals, and 25 turnovers [by Columbia] and we still lost the game. I’m very disappointed for the players; they played very, very hard.”
As the buzzer at Newman Arena sounded the end of the Red’s unbeaten start to the Ivy League season, Dacko and her players were left to wonder how this game slipped away. On paper, this was a game the Lions had no right to win. Cornell (9-8, 3-1 Ivy) recorded a season-high 20 steals, forced 25 turnovers, and had 22 more field goal attempts than its opponent.
Columbia fell behind early, and didn’t have its first lead until 4:32 left in overtime. At half-time, the Red looked to be in control, enjoying a comfortable ten point cushion. Yet the Lions persisted, and took full advantage of the few opportunities they were given to earn an unlikely victory.
For Dacko, the inconsistency of her team’s performance was an all too familiar story.
“This has been our season,” she said. “We fell apart in the second half, the last five minutes. There was a lack of execution. We were living and dying on one shot.”
Senior guard Do Stevens agreed that the team’s problems lay in its inability to play two solid halves of basketball.
“We came out completely flat in the second half,” she admitted. “When our defense is going, we’re going; when it’s not, we’re not.”
In front of a raucous crowd at Newman Arena, the Red came out fired up, scoring on its first two possessions to take a 5-0 lead. Senior guard Breean Walas recorded a basket, a steal, and an assist inside the first 44 seconds. The two sides continued to swap baskets, before a 7-2 run at the end of the half gave the Red a healthy 39-29 advantage. Stevens, the Red’s leading
scorer on the year, buried a three-pointer on the last possession of the period to finish the half with a game-high 14 points.
The Red began the second half sluggishly, as the Lions started to chip away at the lead. Megan Bramlett’s jumper at 12:53 gave Columbia its first tie of the game at 44-44. This was the signal for Cornell to raise the tempo; freshman forward Sarah Lee’s spectacular block on Nicole Lesko ignited a 9-2 run, culminating with a steal and a coast to coast layup from Walas. With 4:31 remaining, the Red’s 58-50 lead appeared good enough to secure a season-high fifth straight win.
Enter Susan Kern.
Columbia’s freshman sensation hit a pair of quick baskets to slice the margin to just three points. Sensing a grandstand finale, the Newman Arena crowd rose to its feet as the clock ticked down to under a minute. With nine seconds remaining, Edytte Key rebounded a Walas miss, setting up the Lions for one last shot. Up stepped Susan Kern again. Left wide open on the baseline, Kern accepted the invitation to drain a game-tying three pointer. There were still six ticks on the clock, and freshman Karen Force raced up the court in search of a dramatic buzzer beater. Spotting an opening in the paint, Force drove in aggressively, only to see her layup bounce agonizingly off the rim.
Dacko was understandably disappointed to surrender the lead in such circumstances.
“There was a lack of communication,” she observed. “She [Kern] certainly shouldn’t have been wide open.”
Overtime brought an air of inevitability, as the deflated Red struggled to find its rhythm. The momentum had clearly shifted, as the Lions opened up a five-point lead. Despite this, Cornell was presented with one final chance, trailing 67-64 with 17 seconds to go. Force took on the shot-taking responsibility again, but her three-point effort rimmed out and fell into the hands of a grateful Lesko.
Stevens, who finished the game with 17 points, was quick to come to Force’s defense.
“That was our set play,” she said of Force’s three-point attempt. “We have a lot of confidence in her; we’ll give it to her again.”
For Stevens and the rest of the women’s basketball team, this is a defeat that will be extremely hard to swallow. However, there is little time for licking wounds as the Red enters a crucial phase of the Ivy League schedule. Next weekend, Cornell will play host to both Penn and Brown, before playing four consecutive league games on the road. At 3-1 in the Ivy standings, the Red still holds on to first place, and is well and alive in its hopes of lifting the Ivy League crown.
Archived article by Soo Kim