Last year, the men’s basketball team had a 5-1 league record heading into the Penn-Princeton weekend at Newman Arena, with a chance to grab first place in the conference standings. This year, first place is also in reach, and the Red (9-10, 4-2 Ivy) can take a big step towards the top of the conference when it travels to face Princeton (10-8, 1-3 Ivy) and Penn (12-7, 5-0 Ivy) tonight and tomorrow.
With Penn rallying to defeat Princeton earlier this week, Cornell, which currently sits alone in second place, will need some help from its travel partner to get to first place this weekend.
“I think fans and other people look at the bigger picture more than the player and the coaches,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “Our job is to go down there [tonight] right now and win, and figure out the best way to beat a good basketball team. That’s our job and obviously we haven’t had great success down there because they’re good.”
After starting the conference slate with a 2-2 record, the Red posted two big home wins last weekend. On Friday night, Brown’s Jason Forte, the 2004 Ivy League Player of the Year, set a Newman Arena record with 36 points, but it was senior Cody Toppert’s two free throws with 3.5 seconds in regulation that made the difference, as the Red topped the Bears, 76-75.
Saturday’s game was equally exciting, as the Red needed double-overtime to dispatch Yale. Down by five with 1:15 remaining in the first overtime, the Red rallied back and junior Lenny Collins tied the game with a three with only 13 seconds remaining in the first extra session. The Red hit its free throws in the last minute of the second overtime and came away with the 87-82 win. Collins, who racked up 20 and 21 points against Brown and Yale, respectively, was named Co-Ivy League Player of the Week on Monday.
Penn and Princeton have been dominating the Ivy League for the past 16 years, with no other team earning the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament since 1988, when Cornell won the Ivy title outright. After compiling a 13-1 league record last year and the Ivy title, Princeton’s coach, John Thompson III, accepted the head coaching job at Georgetown.
The Tigers replaced Thompson with one of their own, Joe Scott, who previously was the head coach at Air Force. Scott’s squad was given the nod as the preseason Ivy favorite, but has a posted a disappointing 1-4 start in the conference. The Tigers’ fourth loss came at the hands of the Quakers, who overcame an 18-point deficit to force overtime at the Palestra. After not allowing Princeton a field goal in the final 8:33 of regulation, Penn pulled ahead in the overtime for the 70-62 win.
“It was a wild game. As crazy a game as I’ve seen next to the one that I was involved with in 2000, where we had that 27-point lead evaporate,” Donahue said. “So, I can feel for Princeton in this case. Those things happen. It’s hard to imagine them happening, but it happens. I’m sure the kids will bounce back quicker than the coaches.”
The Tigers return four starters from last year’s squad, including senior center Judson Wallace, who leads the team in scoring with 14.0 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, and senior guard Will Venable, the team’s second leading scorer with 10.5 points per game.
“I think there’s obviously always an adjustment period with a new coach and even though they say it’s the same system, coach Scott is different than John Thompson was,” Donahue said. “Our league is better than it’s been. We’re balanced. Each team has three or four very good players. I think that has more to do with it than Princeton not playing well.”
The Quakers currently hold the top spot in the conference with a 5-0 record. Along with its win against Princeton, Penn’s other notable win this season came against Philadelphia Big Five opponent, St. Joseph’s. Senior guard Tim Begley leads the team in scoring and rebounding with 13.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
This weekend marks the Red’s first away games in almost a month. After entertaining Ivy foes at home for three straight weeks, Cornell heads out on the road for a crucial two-week stretch starting tonight.
“I think over the last two years, we’ve been a good road team,” Donahue said. “We had a winning record on the road last year. I think our guys now look forward to the road. I wouldn’t want to play two more home games; it’s almost gets monotonous. Now you need the change and the challenge. We put ourselves in a chance to compete for this, so now we have to go play our best basketball on the road.”
Archived article by Jonathan Auerbach
Sun Staff Writer