February 9, 2009

Basketball Adds to the Win Column at Penn

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The men’s basketball team had a strong response to its first Ivy League loss since the 2007 campaign, beating Penn on Saturday night, 88-73. The Red (15-7, 5-1 Ivy) got solid contributions across the board with junior Ryan Wittman leading with 21 points, one of the team’s four double-digit scorers. The win keeps Cornell one game behind Princeton for the Ancient Eight’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
[img_assist|nid=34870|title=Beyond the arc|desc=Men’s basketball rebounded against Penn, hitting 38.1 percent of their shots from beyond the arc to win 88-73.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“As a coach you worry about everything, how are they going to react,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “These guys, have done a good job over the past two years of responding when in tough situations … I’m just very proud of the guys of how they did over the last 24 hours.”
As if heading into a famed arena wasn’t enough motivation for the Red, the team felt the pressure to respond after the team got outplayed the previous night. One player in particular, Wittman, was asked by the team’s coaches — and his father, Randy Wittman — to be more aggressive in Saturday’s contest. He did, responding with a game-high 21.
“I think I was little passive in the last game and in the two wins too,” Wittman said. “Not just getting shots and everything but moving without the ball, making plays for other people.”
“It has been a crazy year for Ryan, because you ask him to do so much early,” Donahue said. “Lou comes back, we’re winning games, he’s probably a little more passive, not looking for his own and I think he needs to be aggressive all the time, score differently.”
After being physically dominated by Columbia the previous night, Penn coach Glen Miller used a new starting five to motivate his team into playing tougher and it worked. The Quakers went ahead seven points and had yet to use its leading scorer. The Red survived the early push, using senior Jeff Foote’s size on the inside and deft 3-point shooting for a 24-9 run that put the Quakers at bay.
“We came out and we knew what we had to do,” said Foote, who scored 16. “We knew they would come out fired up, we just stayed focus and stuck to our game plan.”
On one play, junior Louis Dale found Foote on an alley-oop. Next, Wittman would hit a 3 with two defenders in his face with the shot clock expiring, then junior Geoff Reeves would hit a 3 on a broken play. The run ended with a Reeves turnaround jumper to end the half, sending the teams to the locker room with the Red up by 15. The Red shot just under 40 percent from 3 for the game, going 6-of-11 in the first half. The Quakers didn’t see much success from downtown, going 4-for-12.
Sophomore Harrison Gaines was the bright spot for the Pennsylvania school, leading the Quakers with 21 points. Gaines is quickly becoming a problem for the Red, as he dropped a career-high 20 points.
“Harrison had 38 points against us in the past two games,” Donahue said. “We talked about him again … Obviously, he did a great job tonight.”
Despite his offense output, Gaines and the Quakers had to listen to a lot of cheering from the Cornell fan section. A large group of Red basketball fans occupied most of the west side of the arena, especially in the Palestra.
“That whole side, to have them in this building, to have that type of support in the Palestra,” Donahue said. “I’m not sure that’s something this university has seen before.”