With a minute left in the second half, Cornell (4-4) trailed Siena (4-3), 77-74. After a strong defensive stand, the Red got the ball back with a chance to tie the game. Junior guard Robert Hatter pushed the team up the floor and pulled up for a deep three, drilling the shot. He then drew an offensive foul on Siena and gave Cornell the lead at the free throw line.
“We practice it with myself or Matt [Morgan] taking the final shot,” Hatter said.
The coaches called for Hatter to take the shot and the call worked out perfectly as Cornell held on to beat Siena 81-80.
“We’ve been coming off some losses so this was an important win,” Hatter said.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” said head coach Bill Courtney. “When you have a young group, a lot of times you don’t know what to expect.”
Cornell struggled offensively in the first half, making several costly turnovers that led to easy transition points for Siena. Furthermore, the Red shot just 34 percent from the field in the first half.
After 20 minutes of play the Red trailed 37-31.
“We came out in the first half and played with the energy we wanted to play with,” Courtney said. “We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot, turning the ball over and missing a lot of layups.”
Siena presented a lot of problems on the low post, dominating the glass and scoring off second chance opportunities. The Red made adjustments defensively at halftime and junior forward David Onuorah stepped up his defensive play and kept out of foul trouble, which had been his achilles heel all season.
“We knew Sienna was a good team,” Onuorah said. “We’re happy we played better in the second half and put ourselves in position to win the game.”
Onuorah set the tone defensively for the Red, finishing with three blocks and nine rebounds. He also had nine points on the offensive end.
“Down the stretch, we did a terrific job of guarding the post,” Courtney said. “David Onuorah was tremendous in there as the backbone of our defense.”
Still, in the early minutes of the second half, Siena broke open a 14-point lead, as Cornell struggled to find an offensive rhythm.
The momentum shifted when Siena got into foul trouble. The Siena zone softened and Cornell’s talented guards began to find lanes to the basket. Hatter found success getting into the lane with his left hand off the dribble.
“We got them in foul trouble which opened a lot of things up,” Hatter said.
Hatter became a constant threat driving to the basket. With the Saints expecting him to drive, it opened up space for him to shoot outside. He finished with 32 points for the Red and led the electric comeback. He hit several late 3-point shots to pull Cornell back into the game, but his most important three came in the final minute.
Guard play was very impressive for the Red. In addition to Hatter, freshman guard Matt Morgan continued his strong start to the season, finishing with 14 points and looking very poised with the ball. Junior guard Darryl Smith came up with a couple of crucial steals for the Red and finished with twelve points, including a pair of free throws in the final seconds that sealed the game.
Overall, the victory was an important stride for the Red, bring the team back to .500. The Red takes on Lafayette on Saturday.