Up 12 points with just 4:27 left to play, the men’s basketball team quickly found out that no lead is safe in the mercurial world of college basketball, as Hartford (2-3) rallied to win, 63-61, last night at Newman Arena.
“All the credit is to Hartford,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “They did a terrific job of never quitting.”
After freshman Ryan Wittman hit two free throws to give the Red (3-3) a 60-50 lead, it looked as though Red might cruise to its second home victory of the season. Instead, Hartford was able to rally off 12-straight points in the less than three minutes — including five by Rich Baker — to quickly erase the deficit and take a lead of its own. Cornell’s only points of the last four minutes would come on a free throw by sophomore Jason Battle.
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“It comes down to being comfortable at the end of the game,” said senior tri-captain Graham Dow, who had a game high 10 assists. “As a group, we still need to find an identity. I take full responsibility, as a senior, for not taking control of the young guys and getting us together at the end.”
Early in the second half, inexperience didn’t seem to be a problem for the Red as it opened with a 7-0 run to extend its lead to 37-26. After a sloppy first half that saw the Red unable to find much space in the Hawks stingy zone defense, the Red was able to penetrate the open spots after halftime and find some easy buckets that weren’t there initially.
“Teams play a lot of different defenses,” Dow said. “It took us a little while to adapt to this one, but once we figured it out, we were able to score some points against [Hartford].”
Because it was able to find some open holes in the zone, the Red ended with 19 assists on 22 baskets.
Wittman lead the Red with 22 points and freshman Louis Dale added 15 and a game-high eight rebounds. Although Wittman led the Red in scoring for the second-straight game, he was only able to contribute seven of those 22 points in the second half, on 2-of-9 shooting from the floor.
Joe Zeglinski led the Hawks with 18 points before fouling out near the end of the game. Bo Taylor added 15 points — including a layup with just under a minute to play that put Hartford up for good.
Cornell had a chance to win in the final seconds when Dale took the inbounds pass at the top of the key, drove to his left and attempted to get a 3-point attempt off. But the ball was stripped and Hartford walked away victorious.
“We played scared at the end of the game,” Donahue said. “They did a tremendous job exposing it. We had the opportunities, we just didn’t finish.”
The free throw line was also unkind to the Red as it shot only 46 percent in the second half, leaving a number of much needed points out on the court. In fact, the Red shot almost as good from the floor in the second half as it did from the charity stripe.
“We have to knock them down in the end of the game,” Dow said. “You can shoot as many as you want in practice, but its just not the same. [Our free throw shooting] sort of epitomized the whole game for us. You have to be comfortable enough to get it done.”
In its victory, Hartford utilized the line all night long, scoring 10 more free throws than the Red in 11 more attempts, making up for shooting less than 40 percent from the floor.