The night (and the season) started out auspiciously for the Big Red men’s basketball team. With the crowd on its feet, Ray Mercedes and his family were awarded a ceremonial basketball for Ray’s 1,000 career points. Couple this with the electrifying opening three-pointer by senior captain Kevin Cuttica, the Red and its fans were optimistic about its chances against three-time defending Patriot League champion, Lafayette.
As the game progressed, however the Lafayette Leopards’ three prime-time players were too much for the Red to handle. 7’0″ senior center Frank Barr’s blocking prowess, junior guard Brian Burke’s passing brilliance and senior guard Tim Bieg’s overall hustle led the Leopards to a 72-62 victory over the Red.
With the score tied 53-53 with eight minutes remaining in the game, the tide turned against the Red. Mercedes drove the baseline, and put up a layup that rattled in and out of the hoop. On the Red’s next possession, junior point guard Wallace Prather missed another easy layup in transition. Finally, Cuttica’s errant pass resulted in a Bieg layup. The Red went five minutes without tallying a point.
Down the stretch, the team also missed some key free throws which could have put it back in contention. The Red shot 6-13 (46.2%) from the line in the second half.
“We need to knock down our free throws and not have the mental lapses we had,” Mercedes said. “It is still early in the season.”
A major reason for the Red’s second half failure can be attributed to the Leopards’ matchup zone. This defensive technique forced the Red into taking long three-pointers and ill-advised shots with the shot clock winding down.
“I need to get better as a coach. We lost a sense of what we needed to do against the matchup zone,” first-year head coach Steve Donahue said. “I need to do a better job of teaching that during the week.”
The zone also allowed Lafayette center Frank Barr to roam the middle and provide an intimidating and ferocious presence. Barr finished the contest with an impressive six blocks.
“He is an imposing shot blocker,” Donahue said. “He probably had three or four others that were called fouls on other guys.”
In the first half, two trends were apparent for the Red. The first was the tendency for the team to shoot three-pointers. In total, Cornell shot 6-for-11 from three-point land, with Mercedes going 3-5 beyond the arc.
Secondly, Donahue kept true to his words of substituting frequently. 13 players were inserted into the first half lineup. With 14:43 left in the first half, Donahue replaced all five of his floor players. One and a half minutes later, Donahue pulled the five replacements for his original starting lineup.
Asked about the plethora of substitutions, Mercedes responded, “I do what is told for me to do and what they need me to do. It does keep me fresh. When I am on the court, I am in soldier mode.”
One highlight for the Red was the spectacular play of its highly acclaimed freshman Ka’Ron Barnes. Barnes came off the bench to provide a spark connecting on two three-pointers in the first half to finish with ten points in the first 20 minutes. In the second half, Barnes continued his solid play and knocked down another two beyond the arc to cap off his game scoring totals of 18 points, five assists, and three rebounds.
“He has a great attitude and is real serious,” Donahue said of Barnes. “He will be a real good basketball player.”
Donahue and his comrades take the loss against a team that has been to the NCAA tournament the last two years as a lesson to learn from. The Red will face a national powerhouse this upcoming weekend when the team travels to Michigan State to partake in the Spartans’ Thanksgiving tournament.
Archived article by Jason Skolnik