After a disappointing loss to Columbia (9-7, 1-1 Ivy League) last weekend, the Cornell men’s basketball team (9-10, 1-1) got back on track on Saturday by beating the bulldogs 66-63 in N.Y.C.
The Red entered the half up by 12 due to a 15-1 run and held off a late Columbia rally to hang on for the win. According to junior forward Errick Peck, the team recognized the importance of winning the game and maintaining its Ivy League championship hopes.
“[This game] was huge,” Peck said. ”[It] was a huge confidence boost from a team perspective to lose to a team in a pretty embarrassing fashion, then [to] go out and beat them in their own house. I think we showed a lot of toughness as a unit last night.”
A big factor in the victory was the Red’s ability to draw fouls and capitalize on its opportunities. After getting to the line just five times against the same team last weekend, the Red was 25-29 from the charity stripe on Saturday.
“In the first game, we only got to the line 5 times, which was a little bit uncharacteristic of us,” said senior guard Miles Asafo-Adjei.
The Red went into Saturday’s game with head coach Bill Courtney emphasizing that it needed to attack the paint in order to generate offense.
“Coach mentioned that [fact] before the game and all week, so [that] was something on our mind,” Asafo-Adjei said. “In the first half, we weren’t making shots … But we were being aggressive and getting to the basket and getting fouled, which definitely helped us get a big lead going into halftime.”The Red has benefited from its depth all season, as head coach Bill Courtney regularly plays nine players in his rotation. This proved important once more against Columbia when the Red’s bench outscored the Lion’s bench 45-19. In fact, the squad’s two leading scorers, sophomore guard Galal Cancer and senior forward Josh Figini, both came off the bench.Cancer scored a career-high 19 points and added five rebounds, three assists and a steal. He was a big reason why the Red shot so many free throws, going 11-12 from the stripe himself. Canncer’s teammates said they were not surprised at his performance and expect to see more of the same in the future.“[Cancer] played extremely well,” Peck said. “We see it every day in practice so hopefully you guys will see it more and more as the Ivy League season progresses. He’s capable of doing this every game.”Figini also gave the Red a boost off the bench, playing a season-high 29 minutes. He scored 12 points, including two big three-pointers late in the game, and added four rebounds, a block and a steal.“Josh has been playing great as of late,” Asafo-Adjei said. “He’s been shooting the ball really well. Last night, he shot it well, had a couple big three’s late in the game and has been doing other things well too; he’s been playing great defense for us and rebounding well on top of his scoring.”Last week, Columbia center Mark Cisco and point guard Brian Barbour led the way for the Lions with 18 and 16 points, respectively, but they were much quieter this time around, as the Red put extra emphasis on stopping their two best players. Cisco scored just six points and only grabbed two rebounds.“We did a much better job of just being more aggressive and attacking their defense and Cisco in particular,” Peck said. “Getting him in foul trouble early turned out to work in our favor.”Last weekend, Cisco’s 18 points came mostly off easy layups in the paint after Columbia’s quick guards penetrated the lane.“For Cisco, we just didn’t want him to get any easy shots off dump-off [passes]. Part of that was staying in front of Barbour and not letting him get in the lane and dropping off passes, but all the credit to our posts for making all his shots difficult and making him work all night long,” Asafo-Adjei said.Barbour still scored 15 points, but on an inefficient 5-17 from the floor.“Limiting those 2 guys was a big focus for us,” Asafo-Adjei said. “Barbour is obviously a tremendous player for them; he can get to the basket and is also a very good shooter. Our main goal was just to try and stay in front of him and make every shot a contested shot and we did a great job of that all night. I think we played great team defense [on him], it wasn’t just one guy, it was a lot of guys who guarded him.”Columbia put together a run near the end of the second half, but it was too little too late for the Lions. Barbour converted an and-one layup to close the lead to just one with eight seconds left, but Cancer hit two of his 11 free throws on the night to seal the game. Barbour got off a tough look to tie the game at the buzzer, but it did not fall, giving the Red its first conference victory of the season.