The Cornell men’s basketball team opens up its season tomorrow night at 8 p.m. in its home confine of Newman Arena. The matchup reunites two former Penn assistants, sixth year Lafayette head coach Fran O’Hanlan, and first year Cornell head coach, Steve Donahue.
Donahue is excited about getting the Big Red in the right direction. He aims for the crowd to play a role as the team’s sixth player. With his new “Red Zone” idea, he looks for the Cornell community to rise his team’s spirits and provide Newman Arena with Lynah Rink-like camaraderie.
Still, he realizes the daunting task of facing Lafayette. Lafayette is the three time defending Patriot League champion and has made back to back NCAA tournament appearances. To make things more challenging for the Red, the Leopards hold the 13th longest winning streak in the nation which currently stands at 13 games. They are a quick, transitional team with the ability to run the court and hit three-pointers in bunches.
“They do a terrific job in transition,” Donahue said. “They have three guys back who can hit 3-pointers.”
Donahue is referring to senior guards Tyson Whitfield, Tim Bieg and its junior guard Brian Burke. Whitfield and Bieg were key contributors in the Leopards 65-54 victory over the Big Red last year.
Whitfield swished three 3-pointers to total 15 points and Bieg finished with 13 points. In a pivotal part of the game in the second half with the score 31-30 Leopards, Bieg picked Cornell’s pocket twice, both times leading to two uncontested lay-ups. Lafayette never looked back and came away with the home win.
A big loss for the Lafayette Leopards is Brian Ehlers, who graduated last spring. He rode a 44 game double-digit scoring streak into last year’s Cornell matchup. The Big Red held him to three points in the first half, but was unfettered in the second and amassed 11 in the final 20 minutes to continue his unprecedented streak.
Though Ehlers will not be in the Leopard lineup, the Red will have to unite all of its assets to defeat this Patriot league powerhouse. Back for the Red are senior captains Ray Mercedes and Kevin Cuttica. Mercedes averaged 14.8 ppg last year and shot 41.1% from beyond the 3 point stripe. Cuttica averaged 5.2 ppg last year, but only averaged 21 minutes per game. Donahue looks for his role to be expanded this year. In last Saturday’s intra-squad game, Cuttica knocked down 3 pointers in bunches and was a force on defense.
For the Red to be successful, it will need to rebounding skills of its other captain, 6’9” senior Greg Barratt. Barratt led this team in rebounding last year with 7.7 per game. Though he injured his ankle in last Saturday’s intra-squad game, Donahue believes that he will be 100% for the game.
Donahue plans to play most of the team in the first half. He believes that this system will keep them fresh and thinks that everyone on the team has earned the opportunity to play. The Red looks for a true team effort to defeat this Patriot league champion.
Archived article by Jason Skolnik