After becoming the first player in the 118-year history of Cornell basketball to score at least 32 points in back-to-back games, freshman guard Matt Morgan is the hottest player in the league. In four Ivy games, Morgan, the reigning Player of the Week has combined for 120 points, over 40 more than the next highest scoring player.
Yet despite his offensive outburst, Morgan still does not lead the conference in scoring. That honor belongs to Morgan’s backcourt mate, Robert Hatter. The junior guard, who missed his previous four games with an ankle injury, will return this weekend when Cornell battles Brown and Yale.
Will there be a clash when Hatter and Morgan, both high-volume scorers, return to the same backcourt? Head coach Bill Courtney laughed when asked if there would be conflict between the two talented guards.
“No clash. We’ll be a better team,” Courtney said. “If you look at the last game they played together at Howard, they both had terrific games, both very efficient. I think with him back it helps both those guys to be more efficient. They’re going to have much better shooting numbers because it’ll take a little bit of the pressure off each of the guys.”
Hatter and Morgan get their first chance to show off to the the conference how good they can be together when Cornell battles Brown on Friday. The Bears will enter the game losers of three of their previous four games, but according to Courtney, they’re still a dangerous team, led by talented point guard Tavon Blackmon.
“He’s a one man fast break,” Courtney said of Blackmon. “We’ll just try to contain him. He’s different than most of the players we see in this league with his speed and quickness. He has to see a wall of defenders every time he’s pushing the ball up the floor.”
Blackmon is first in the Ancient Eight in assists and is coming off a dominant performance against Penn. He scored 23 points and dished out 10 assists as the Bears picked up their first in-conference victory of the season over the Quakers.
“It’s not going to be an individual effort, it’s going to be a team effort,” Morgan said about the team’s approach to containing Blackmon. “We’re going to make sure we come with a lot of intensity and keep up the ball pressure like we did in the last two games.”
Also crucial in Brown’s victory over Penn was forward Cedric Kuakumensah, who scored 26 points. Kuakumensah leads the league in blocks and second in rebounds. He also tenth in the league in scoring, averaging 13.7 points per game most of those coming from midrange jump shots.
“He hasn’t scored a lot around the rim per se, but he does a lot of his damage on the perimeter,” Courtney said of Kuakamensah. The Brown big man will likely stretch the floor, posing a challenge to Cornell’s defensive anchor, junior forward David Onuorah.
Onuorah, who struggled through foul trouble last weekend said he’s altered his approach to playing defense.
“I learned late in the Dartmouth game [last Saturday] that I could contest shots without going for the blocks as much,” Onuorah said. “I can just stand there and be a shot deterrent, instead of just going for a block. I’m going to do that more, keeping out of foul trouble which will allow me to play more.”
“What we’re trying to tell him is that when the ball is coming at you, basically wall up and be big,” Courtney said about the coaches’ message to Onuorah. “[We told him to] make the opponents go over you.”
After Brown, Cornell will travel to New Haven to take on Yale. The Bulldogs, who are still undefeated in the conference, possess the league’s best defense as well as the largest margin of victory. Needless to say, the Red is not taking this match lightly, according to Courtney.
“They’re one of the best rebounding teams in the country,” Courtney said. “We’re just going to have to fight like crazy and get on the glass. Obviously that’s not a strong point for us so we’re just going to have to really scrap and claw against a very big and efficient team.”
It has been three years since Cornell defeated Yale, and senior guard Robert Mischler is the only active player on the team that was on the roster for that game.
“I’ve never beaten them in my career so that’s important to us,” Onuorah said. “We want to just come out there and play hard. They have a pretty good frontcourt and backcourt so we just got to come out and play our game and impose our will.”
“They’ve got a great balanced team with tremendous bigs and Makai Mason does a great job running the team,” Courtney said.
Mason and reigning Ivy Player of the Year Justin Sears are both in the Top-8 in scoring in the league and will pose a major threat to a Cornell defense that’s struggled to limit opponents’ scoring.
“We’ve got to prevent them from getting it inside because they do have Justin Sears,” Morgan said. “That’s definitely been a big focus, having to contain him and having to contain their perimeter players.”
After making a major statement in the league by topping Harvard and Dartmouth last weekend, a victory over Yale would place Cornell right in the middle of the Ivy championship race, a position no one thought the Red would be in a couple of months ago; in the preseason poll, Cornell was picked to finish last in the league.
“It was a big moment for me and especially for us as a team,” Morgan said about the win over five-time defending Ivy champions Harvard. “[We showed] that we’re not eighth place like everyone had us, that we’re a lot better than what people thought we were. And then at Dartmouth, to come back from down nine with 3:30 left, it just shows the resiliency that we have and the belief we have in each other.”