It’s been three weeks since the Cornell’s men’s basketball team was able to celebrate, but the team finally got a win against Yale, Friday, 73-70. The Red ought to have savored that moment though because the more familiar result of losing came the following night versus Brown in the most lop-sided victory in Bears’ history since their routing of University of Chicago in 1970.
The Red (6-15, 2-6 Ivy) was in dire need of a win after losing its last five conference games and six overall. Cornell came out firing against the Bulldogs, shooting 53 percent in the first half. The team shot 52 percent for the entire game and a remarkable 52.4 percent from beyond the arc. These numbers by far surpass the statistics in all of the Red’s other league games.
The defense stifled Yale in the first 20 minutes, as the Bulldogs went 12-29, and trailed Cornell by 10, 41-31, going into half-time.
The squad has yet to play a full 40-minute game. Lapses on the offensive end, missed free throws and poor shot selection has plagued the team all season long. Some times there are signs of brilliance, but are succeed by levels of incompetence. This almost happened in the Yale game after the Red jumped ahead to a 16 point lead. The hosts began to catch up and got within three point on three separate occasions.
Senior tri-captain Ray “Pops” Mercedes led the Red in the winning effort with 22 points on 8 for 9 shooting, and 4 for 4 from three-point territory, as he is racing for third-place on the Cornell all-time scoring list. The senior tri-captain notched his season high point total as he started in his first game since the Jan. 13 loss at the Palestra.
“No one knows what happened between Pops and coach,” senior tri-captain Kevin Cuttica said of head coach Steve Donahue’s decision to bench the four-year starter. “But Pops’ reaction was positive and he had some of his best practices [recently]. I’ve had a lot of respect for him and the way he’s handled the situation.”
Mercedes seems to have won his way back into the coach’s favor and a starting position. He would also start against the Bears.
Freshman standout Ka’Ron scored 13 points and Cuttica came off the bench to equal the rookie’s effort.
The next night crushed all the optimism that Friday night created. Brown began the game on a 11-0 run to shock the Red from the beginning. The offensive impotence resurfaced as the Cornell starters: Mercedes, sophomore Jake Rohe, senior tri-captain Greg Barratt, junior Wallace Prather and Barnes combined for 5 of 26 shooting.
The only player to achieve double digits was sophomore Luke Vernon with 13 total points in his 13 minutes on the floor.
Brown doubled the Red in points at intermission 42-21, and only built on its lead as the game progressed into the second-half shooting a blistering 64 percent from the field.
Earl Hunt, the leading Ivy scorer, smoked the Red for 18 points despite the attention Donahue’s team bestowed upon the prolific Bear. Three more of his teammates garnered over ten points.
“We didn’t have a win in a while,” Cuttica said, “and we just didn’t come out with the same intensity [at Brown].
“We play two games every weekend. Even though you’re tired and sore, you have do well both nights. You have to have a killer instinct.”
Nevertheless the team sees a turnaround in the Cornell basketball program. In this year’s dwindling season, the Red has little left to play for. It is out of the race for an Ivy title, and a winning season would mean that it must win all six of its final games.
“It’s been a frustrating year,” Cuttica admitted, “but I think that the attitude is better [than in years past]. I think that the program is moving in the right direction.
“But. Now, we are playing for pride.”
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