Contrary to popular belief, staying in Ithaca over winter break has its perks.
“I think the players enjoyed having someone make their beds every day,” said women’s basketball head coach Dayna Smith.
For Smith, however, the month spent in the isolation of Ithaca and the comfort of the Statler Hotel provided other benefits.
“The girls seemed more focused on the game plan,” Smith said. “Honestly, there’s not much for the girls to do but basketball. Without classes, we could watch a lot of video.”
Nonetheless, Cornell (6-9, 2-0 Ivy) found themselves down 16 points to Penn (6-9, 1-2) last Friday, merely 10 minutes into its conference schedule this year.
[img_assist|nid=20784|title=Floor general|desc=Senior co-captain Claire Perry (21) posted a season-high 20 points in Cornell’s 70-66 win over Princeton last Saturday. (Trevor Vieweg / Sun Staff)|link=popup|align=left|width=100|height=97]
“We stunk in the first half against Penn,” Smith said. We were playing really sluggish at the start.”
Then Cornell started chipping away at the deficit, inching closer to the Quakers.
“We started to do a lot of little things, things that we’ve been trying to do all year,” Smith said. “Nothing really changed in our approach. … We just shut down penetraters, boxed out and fronted in the post. Our defense fueled our offense and we started coming back.”
Down seven at the half, Smith recalled a feeling of confidence going into the second stanza. The Red continued the charge, polishing off a 26-4 run carrying over from the first half. Cornell never looked back on its way to a 67-58 victory.
“The Penn game was a real dogfight, but when we pulled that win out, we gained a lot of confidence and that definitely carried over to Princeton,” Smith said.
Going up against the Tigers (8-9, 2-1) meant facing a team that finished in a three-way knot atop the Ivy League last year, and had a 2-0 conference record to start this season. The confidence and focus on details fueled Cornell as it traded baskets with Princeton much of the first half.
“Our shooting has improved. We’re taking smarter shots, making smart moves in the post to get to the basket and driving the lane for layups, giving us more free throws,” she said. “We’re playing inside-outside basketball more, getting into the post and then kicking it out, instead of forcing outside shots.”
For a team that has been so guard-oriented in recent history, the Red front line showed up against Princeton, something Smith had been hoping for all year.
“[Junior] Moina [Snyder], [sophomore] Jeomi [Maduka], and [sophomore] Shannan [Scarselletta] set the tone on offense against Princeton and carried us early on,” she said. “They did a great job deciding when to push the ball and when to take it up slowly after a rebound.”
Each forward posted 14 points, with Snyder adding 12 rebounds and four blocks to fill out the stat line. While the Tigers stuck around, Cornell’s high percentage shots led to them shooting at a clip of 51.1 percent, hoisting a mere seven 3s — a number far lower than earlier in the season. Eventually the Red built a 13-point cushion. Unfortunately, as Smith pointed out, every game is a game of runs, and Princeton made its bid late in the second half. Despite shooting
only 35.3 percent after halftime.
“It was just a couple of possessions. They hit some big shots, we had some silly turnovers, and maybe we forced a few things. I liked our poise, though,” Smith said. “We didn’t get that look on our faces like we had just given up a lead. We took it possession by possession, which puts everything in perspective. We realized that we still needed to do the same things as before.”
With this in mind, Snyder stuck to the game plan and aggressively attacked the hoop, drawing two free throws after Princeton had taken a 66-65 lead with only a few minutes left on the clock. She found the bottom of the net on both attempts. After a defensive stop, the team hit repeat as senior co-captain Claire Perry drove the lane only to be fouled. The score stood at 69-65 after Perry tossed in her two from the charity stripe. Maduka added another free toss to seal the deal on a 70-66 win.
“It was nice that we got the free throw line and we were more aggressive,” Smith said. “We are beginning to understand better what teams will give us and exploit that.”
The win leaves the Red undefeated in league play. The team had been winless until securing a 64-59 victory over instate rival Colgate on December 18. The team then road tripped to the nearby Wagner Tournament in Staten Island, N.Y., where it dropped a 78-67 affair to St. Bonaventure before pulling out the consolation game, a 57-42 triumph over Wagner. The Red spent the next week in Ithaca polishing off three opponents in six days, beginning with a 66-38 trouncing of South Hill’s Ithaca College, moving on to 65-42 win over NJIT, before finishing with a tight 60-59 loss against Binghamton. Four days later, Cornell began its march towards a hopeful Ivy title, a quest that will continue against Columbia on Saturday.