Cornell men’s basketball was able to notch one more conference win with a close four-point victory at Dartmouth over the weekend, but was taken down with a strong first half effort by Harvard the following evening in Cambridge, losing 87-75.
Dartmouth (6-17, 3-7 Ivy) managed to bring Friday night’s game within two with under a minute to go, but the Red (7-18, 3-7) held off its opponent in a tight game to complete a season sweep of the Green with a 69-65 victory. The game is emblematic of the overall struggles Cornell has seen closing in the final minutes throughout the year.
“The major takeaway is that we won down the stretch which has been our hallmark here,” said head coach Brian Earl said. “Over the last month or so we have been in a lot of close games and generally have lost them, so it was nice to get a win against Dartmouth where it was away and close.”
Earl and his team had only a one-point lead at halftime, but began to inch away from Dartmouth coming out of the break. The key for the Red in the second half was free throws. Cornell attempted 22 free throws — compared to one attempt in the first 20 minutes — and converted 18.
“We have tried to put our guys in practice into pressure situations, so that may have helped over the past couple weeks,” Earl said. “We lost a game to Brown where we shot 10 of 20 from the free-throw line. We get into practice and make sure [our guys are] taking the them.”
Notable performances against Dartmouth came from sophomores Matt Morgan and Stone Gettings. Morgan had a game-high 28 points and Gettings recorded his first career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
But aside from a couple strong performances and efficient free throw shooting, defense was integral in Cornell’s success. Dartmouth shot 41 percent from the field, including 37 percent in the second half.
“We played some pretty good defense and it was a tough place,” Earl said. “Going to Dartmouth is tougher than people realize. I would not say we were outstanding on either side, but what really matters is that you come away with a win.”
But this same success did not come the next day at Harvard. In its win over Cornell, the Crimson shot 60 percent from both the field and three in the first half to secure at 20-point lead at halftime, 48-28.
“We were playing a few seconds of good defense and then we would give up an open three,” Earl said. “Some of our turnovers and missed shots turned into easy baskets.”
Cornell kept it close with Harvard early on, tied at eight following an athletic three-point play from senior guard Robert Hatter. The home team abruptly went on an 11-0 run, which Cornell would climb back from to get back within three points. But a 15-2 run for the Crimson to end the half was the final nail in the Red’s coffin.
The Red turned it around on defense after the break and held the Crimson to only 38 and 14 percent from the field and three, respectively. But it was too little too late, and Cornell ultimately lost to Harvard by 12.
“We have a lot to work on,” Earl said. “Defensively we have a long way to go and hopefully we will see the fruits of that come forward.”
While four Cornell players reached double figures, it was not an efficient shooting night for the Red. The team shot 43 percent overall with the previous night’s top players — Morgan and Gettings — shooting 35 percent collectively.
But Cornell did succeed on offense once again from the charity stripe, shooting 100 percent on 20 attempts. But once again the majority of these opportunities came in the second half when the Red was already in a big hole.
“You have to make free throws,” Earl said. “It was good to see them go in both these games. I think we are learning to get fouled more. And down the stretch we are getting smarter trying to lengthen the game by getting fouled going to the rim.”
Cornell now sits at sixth in the Ivy League with Dartmouth, while Harvard stays at No. 2 behind the undefeated Princeton Tigers.
Cornell will honor four seniors at its final home games this weekend against Princeton. The Red will face Penn at home the night before.