January 21, 2002

M. Basketball Still Searching for Ws

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In a rivalry that is turning offensively defensive, Cornell shot 28% from the field while receiving a 56-40 thumping at the hands of Columbia. The Red has now lost three straight and six of its last seven games. Last season, the two teams combined for 156 points in two games (41-35 Cornell, 42-38 Columbia). This year, visiting Cornell allowed the Lions to hit 44% from the field as well as shoot 31 free-throws.

Both squads displayed suffocating defenses to start the game as eight minutes into the first half, the score stood 10-4 in favor of Columbia. Cornell cut the lead to three, 17-14 with a Wallace Prather three-pointer. But the Lions clamped down again, holding the Red scoreless for the next six minutes while taking a 31-17 lead into the locker rooms at halftime.

“We had a letdown, mentally,” freshman forward Cody Toppert said. “It’s easy to think that this game was a setback, but overall, we’ve been practicing really hard.”

Cornell’s offensive woes continued as it was held without a point until the 11-minute mark in the second half. By that time, the Light Blue had opened a commanding 39-19 lead and the game was out of reach for the Red.

“We were too tentative offensively,” Toppert noted. “We didn’t do the things we usually do and we allowed them to dictate our offense. They are the most physical defense we have played, but by no means the most spectacular. We just got outplayed.”

Toppert and classmate Steve Cobb led a mini-comeback, helping the team to eight straight points including an impressive dunk by Cobb, but the deficit was too much to recover.

“There were stretches where our defense did a good job. We picked up the defensive pressure [in the second half]. At that point, we were playing for pride,” Toppert said.

Columbia’s Craig Austin had a career day, scoring 25 points on 7-for-11 shooting. He was also 9-for-11 from the free throw line. Much of his success was due to the presence of center Chris Widemann, who was able to draw off defenders.

“Our defense wasn’t going to let him do what he wanted to do, but he got off a few good shots to start the game, and he was able to post up on smaller guys,” Toppert explained.

Cornell head coach Steve Donahue spread playing time evenly among 10 players, but no one could give the Red the spark it desperately needed. Even junior guard Jacques Vigneault, who of late has been on fire from beyond the arc, only put up five shots, going two-for-four from downtown. Vigneault, sophomore Ka’Ron Barnes and Prather each had six points, while freshman Randy Gabler pulled down four rebounds.

The Red remains winless on the road, while Columbia maintained its perfect record at home. Next weekend, however, the tables are turned as Cornell hosts these very Lions, who are 3-9 on the road.

Archived article by Sumeet Sarin