After splitting last weekend’s series in New England, Cornell men’s basketball will tip-off against Penn Friday night at Newman Arena and Princeton on Saturday as it desperately searches for the wins essential towards securing a postseason berth.
The Red’s (7-18, 3-7 Ivy) first challenge of the weekend will be breaking the Quakers’ (11-12, 4-6) four-game win streak, as well as halting the forceful momentum that Penn has piggybacked off of its two standout freshmen.
Since the Red’s 82-62 loss in Philadelphia a week and half ago, Quaker freshmen Ryan Betley at guard and A.J. Brodeur at forward have gone to work, leading Penn to its first Ivy League road sweep since the 2011-12 season. With a career-high 28 points against a talented Brown roster, which included six 3-pointers, Betley was named co-Ivy Rookie of the Week after last weekend’s strong performance on the road. In addition, Brodeur has been a powerhouse for the Quakers, averaging 10.8 points per game and grabbing 7.1 boards a game.
“[Betley] does a lot and [Penn head coach Steve Donahue] does a lot to get him good open shots. He’s a very good player and a tough kid,” said Cornell head coach Brian Earl. “We’re concentrating on him, but also on what Penn does as a unit that is so dangerous — they go through what they do very hard and in the last game, clearly we had some issues with that.”
Cornell senior guard Robert Hatter, who scored a game-high of 22 points in the Red’s last bout against the Quakers, added to Earl’s focus on containing both Betley and Brodeur.
“We went to their house and got beat bad, but they have to come here and play us at home and we take pride in that” Hatter said. Defensively, Hatter identified elements of Betley and Brodeur’s play that has made the team successful over its last four games, including their 3-point capabilities and power in the paint.
The second and more considerable challenge for Hatter and the Red, however, will come on Saturday night when the team takes on an impressive Princeton squad that remains unbeaten in Ivy League play.
“I think a lot of it is mental,” Earl said of Princeton. “Obviously they present a lot of personnel problems — they can go with a lineup that’s six-foot-five to six-foot-six across the board, and that’s a lineup that has hurt us and other teams down the stretch against. We’ll have to look into how we’re gonna match up against them if it comes down to the final minutes and what we do against that.”
Sophomore forward Stone Gettings echoed his coach’s concerns about the Tigers, but emphasized the desperation for his team that he believes will serve as a driving force this weekend.
“They’re a veteran team — I think they’re been led by three or four seniors who have played together for a long time and who have a lot of chemistry together,” he said. “Overall, they might have more experience, but I think we’ll have more energy going into the game because it means more to us than it does to them.”
Countering this fierce Tiger lineup, members of the Red will also look to their graduating seniors as motivation to pick up a pair of wins on this critical weekend of Ivy play.
“The environment, the crowd … you just feel good. And especially this time, this senior weekend, a lot of guys want to play well and play hard for the seniors” Hatter said when asked about playing in front of the Newman for a final.
Despite only being their head coach for one year, Earl noted the leadership and large effort his four graduating seniors have exhibited throughout an up-and-down season.
The Red graduate four seniors this season: Hatter, Jojo Fallas, Desmond Fleming and Braxston Bunce.
“Hatter has played a lot and is a vocal guy on the court, and as time has gone on, he’s really sparked us,” Earl said. “Fallas has been a really solid example for our younger guys and Fleming as well. Jojo has played a lot and gives everything he has [but] Des hasn’t played as much. There’s something to be said about somebody who sticks with it for as long as he has.”
“[Des] is there everyday pretending to be a Princeton guy or a Penn guy, whatever it is, no complaints,” Earl continued. “And then Braxston is a kid who’s had a tough run here. He’s that guy who won’t give up and wants to see his teammates do well.”
In what should be two exciting contests against the Quakers and Tigers, the Red’s graduating seniors hope to not only finish the final home games of their basketball careers valiantly, but also rob the Quakers of their win streak and slay the Tigers perfect conference record.