Coming into the weekend in third place in the Ivy League, the Cornell men’s basketball team (13-12, 5-3 Ivy League) battled in two must-win games to keep pace with league leaders Harvard and Princeton and remain in contention for a shot at the conference title. The Red did just that, beating Yale (10-15, 4-4) on Friday, 68-61, and pulling out a tight win against Brown (9-13, 3-5), 69-66, the following night.
Against Yale, the Red was led by sophomore forward Shonn Miller and senior guard Johnny Gray, who scored 18 points apiece. Miller filled the rest of the stat sheet as well, grabbing nine rebounds, blocking three shots and recording two steals. Gray hit four threes in the game, including some important shots late in the game.
“[Miller and Gray] did a good job on defense and creating for themselves on offense, scoring some big buckets,” said senior forward Errick Peck. “Johnny had a few buckets in the clutch and so did Shonn. They came up big when it mattered.”
According to senior captain and point guard Miles Asafo-Adjei, Gray was able to maintain the Red’s offensive rhythm.
“Gray was able to hit big shot after big shot, especially in the second half when we slowed down a little offensively,” he said. “Whenever Yale was making a run, it seemed like Johnny would hit a big shot and put us ahead or give us a cushion.”
On the other side of the court, Miller made the Bulldogs put up difficult shots, giving the Red more opportunities to score.
“[As for Miller], the things he does for us on the defensive end of the floor are incredible. He alters shots, and makes it difficult for whoever he’s guarding all game long,” Asafo-Adjei said. “Offensively, he’s coming into his own. He can shoot, he can go to the basket and he’s a super athlete. He’s getting better and better every night.”
Going into the game, containing Yale point guard Javier Duren was a priority and the Red was successful in doing just that. He only scored seven points and recorded seven assists, turning the ball over four times in the process.
“The game plan for Duren was just to pressure him all night,” Asafo-Adjei said. “He played a lot of minutes, so we tried to wear him down and get him a little tired. … We tried to make all his shots difficult.”
Another key player the Red focused on stopping was Yale’s 6’0” shooting guard Austin Morgan. He finished with just nine points, only able to get six shots off from the field as a result of the Red’s defense.
“Morgan is a smaller guard and can really shoot it, but needs time and space to [get his shot off],” Peck said. “I remember during my sophomore year, he beat us on a buzzer beater so I definitely didn’t want to lose on another one of those plays again. … But this time, we did a good job against him.”
On Saturday, the Red started off strong in the first half, carrying a 40-29 lead into the locker room against Brown. However, similar to the Yale game, Cornell’s offense slowed down and the Bears were able to get back into the game. The team found this trend a little troubling, but does not believe it will continue into the future, according to Asafo-Adjei.
“It’s tough to say [why we struggled in the second half],” Asafo-Adjei said. “We play so hard on the defensive end and sometimes that will have an effect on your offense. I’m not worried about it in the future; we just need to get open looks at the basket and I’m sure that this trend won’t continue.”
Miller and Gray again led the Red in the victory, as Miller stuffed the stat sheet again with 13 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Gray led the team in scoring with 18 points, hitting another four three-pointers in the process. Although the team relied on Gray throughout the game, he struggled at the line late in the game, hitting just one of six from the stripe, allowing Brown to crawl back into the game.
“Down the stretch, Brown made some big three-pointers to get back into the game,” Asafo-Adjei said. “Just like the night before, we slowed down offensively in the second half, but we’re proud of getting some stops when we needed, winning the game on defense. It definitely wouldn’t have been as close if we converted some free throws at the end, but we’re happy to come out with the win.”
Brown was led by point guard Sean McGonagill, who scored 19 points on 8-14 from the field, but recorded just one assist and turned the ball over six times.
“[McGonagill] is obviously their best player. It’s tough [to stop him] because for 90 percent of the game, the ball is in his hands, so he’s going to get a lot of looks at the basket,” Asafo-Adjei said. “We tried to make it difficult on him all game and I think we did a good job of that in the first half, but he got a little lost in the second half off of some screens and plays in transition.”
The other key performer for the Bears was freshman forward Cedric Kuakumensah, who scored 13 points and grabbed 19 rebounds, helping Brown outrebound the Red, 41-31.
“[Kuakumensah] is just physical, working the glass and getting easy buckets,” Peck said. “We play them again in two weeks, so next time, we’ll do a better job of keeping him off the glass. He didn’t score that much [away from the key], just near the basket, so we’ll do a better job next time we play them.”