After three games, the men’s basketball team is winless. And asking it to turn the season around tonight may be a little too much, as the Red visits arguably the hottest team in college basketball, No. 10 Syracuse (6-0), for a 7 .p.m. tip-off. Considering how well the Orangemen are playing, Cornell may have to look for moral victories when all is said and done at the Carrier Dome.
Cornell comes into tonight’s game having lost a heartbreaking 71-62 overtime decision at Bucknell. Meanwhile, Syracuse is on an emotional high after winning the preseason NIT tournament. En route to the title, it defeated then-No. 11 Michigan St. in the semifinals and ACC power Wake Forest in the finals.
Defense wins games, and right now, no team in the nation is playing as well as Syracuse on that end of the court. Head coach Jim Boeheim has his team playing the zone to near perfection, suffocating opposing offenses. The Orangemen have allowed just one team to score over 60 points and have forced an average of 23.5 turnovers per game. In its most recent victory, the ‘Cuse set a school record with 16 blocked shots in a blowout victory over Colgate.
After watching tape of Syracuse, Cornell head coach Steve Donahue was amazed at how well the team was playing.
“They get in passing lanes, they create turnovers. Usually, Syracuse is solid in the zone. They’re spectacular right now. I just don’t imagine them playing this well in that zone.”
The Orangemen’s defensive prowess is especially troubling for a Cornell
squad that has had trouble putting the ball in the hole consistently. The
Red has shot just 35% from the field, and has had trouble scoring against
zone defenses in the past, particularly in the second game of the year
against Notre Dame.
Donahue believes that his team will be up to the challenge.
“In the preseason, it was getting ready for the Syracuse zone. [Bucknell]
went match-up and we did a good job against them. That’s obviously a whole
different story with Bucknell’s [match-up zone] and Syracuse, but the
concepts are the same.”
The Red will also have to contend with three of the best shooters in the
country. Senior forward Preston Shumpert, junior forward Kueth Duany, and
junior guard DeShaun Williams form a three-headed monster that has combined to average 57.4 points per game. All three players are shooting over 40% from behind the 3-point arc.
Williams, however, may not play, as Boeheim may suspend the team’s leading scorer after his recent arrest for drunk driving.
Although Donahue has instructed his team to pay attention to the
perimeter players, he says that the Red cannot forget the Syracuse interior
“You’ve got to be aware of those three [perimeter] guys. [But] they’ve got a kid like [freshman forward Craig] Forth inside who’s a very good player if you
forget about [him] and think that you’re just going to stop their perimeter
Cornell has been susceptible to big runs in the early part of the season.
In order for the club to remain close, it cannot allow the Orangemen to
string together four or five buckets in a row. It will be especially important for
the offense to remain consistent in order to relieve the burden placed on
“Our Achilles’ heel is poor offense that leads to easy transition and
that’s where the long runs come in,” Donahue admitted. “We need good shot
selection, taking care of the ball, good floor balance, so they don’t get
easy baskets and go on those kinds of runs.”
Certainly, the experience gained in the Notre Dame game will come in
handy at the Dome. For the first 10-12 minutes of that contest, the
Red hung stiff and actually held a slim lead.
“We’ll be better than we were against Notre Dame because of that
experience,” Donahue acknowledged.
Winning on the road may be tough, but one thing is for sure: the Cornell
basketball program will improve after playing a big-time basketball program
such as Syracuse.
As Donahue noted, “It’s a great experience for our guys. They’re excited
about the opportunity of going up there.”
Archived article by Alex Ip