Eight games into the Ivy League schedule, the men’s basketball team finally notched its first conference win of the season. After a disappointing 62-56 loss to Dartmouth on Friday night, the gutsy cagers upset Harvard by a 63-62 margin the following evening.
The weekend started off ominously for the Red (4-17, 1-7), as it blew a double-digit second half lead and could not hold off the Green (8-12, 1-6). Cornell held a 29-25 advantage at the intermission and used an 8-2 run in the first seven and a half minutes of the second stanza to break open the game. But Dartmouth quickly closed the gap, hitting 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions to cut the lead to one at 37-36. The 9-0 spurt was highlighted by two treys from Dartmouth guard Flinder Boyd, who hit back-to-back long distance shots from the left wing.
“[Boyd] got a couple in transition and that got his game going. He got some energy underneath him, started feeling good, and he did a great job,” Cornell head coach Steve Donahue said. “When we started paying attention to him, we just had some total breakdowns on the weak side.”
The Red fought back, however, and extended its lead to 52-46 after a trifecta from junior guard Jacques Vigneault. After falling behind by six, the Dartmouth defense clamped down and ceded just four points over the remaining 4:37. The Red made just one of its last six field goal attempts and also turned the ball over three times during the critical stretch.
“We [had] two foolish turnovers back-to-back, and they [came] down and [got] back-to-back threes,” Donahue added. “It was a situation where you need good offense, and we didn’t do that.”
Meanwhile, Dartmouth seemed to make all the big plays late in the contest. Forward Michael McLaren nailed two key 3-pointers, and forward Scott Klingbeil broke Cornell’s spirit when he converted on a layup to push the lead to five with just 41 ticks left on the game clock. The basket was especially frustrating for the Red, as the shot clock was winding down when Boyd found the wide-open Klingbeil for an uncontested hoop.
“We failed at a critical part in the game,” Donahue lamented. “I failed as a coach in terms of getting it done, some strategy and our guys on both ends with turnovers and blown assignments on defense.”
Senior guard Wallace Prather led the Red with 19 points, and Vigneault added 12. Boyd had seven assists, four rebounds, and four steals to go along with his game-high 22 points.
After the demoralizing loss the previous evening, no one would have blamed the cagers if they had come out flat against Harvard (12-8, 5-3). However, the converse was true, as the Red came out of the gates strong, surging to an early 14-4 lead. Cornell held the advantage the rest of the half and headed into the break with an eight-point lead, 34-26.
“They came out with excellent energy,” Harvard head coach Frank Sullivan noted. “Tremendous credit to them for picking their heads up, coming back tonight, and establishing momentum right from the start.”
As it had done the previous night, Cornell played extremely well at the start of the second half. The Red seemed to be in complete control after a driving layup by freshman guard Cody Toppert gave it a 45-33 lead. But the Crimson quickly answered, going on its own 13-0 run to take a one-point lead.
However, unlike the night before, the cagers had the last word. Cornell made the next three baskets in the see-saw affair, taking a 51-46 lead.
“We couldn’t generate enough stops and that got the momentum back into their favor,” Sullivan said.
Harvard would not die easily. Trailing by five with 1:25 remaining, the Crimson employed a full-court press which befuddled the Cornell offense and forced three consecutive turnovers. Harvard capitalized on the miscues, cutting the margin to 61-59 with 56 seconds remaining.
Donahue attributed his team’s troubles late in the game to inexperience.
“We work on press breaks, but we haven’t been in that situation all year.”
After having trouble with the defensive pressure, Donahue inserted freshman guard AJ Castro, who was promptly fouled. After sitting for the first 39 minutes of the game, the rookie calmly stroked two free throws to extend the lead to four points.
“The kid is a gamer. I was pretty sure he was going to hit them,” Donahue said. “It’s the hardest thing in sports.”
Once again, Harvard came back, as Harvey came down the court and nailed a 3-pointer to trim the lead to one. On the ensuing inbounds play, Prather broke free and was fouled hard while attempting a breakaway layup. However, he was unable to convert on either of his free-throw attempts, and Harvard had one final shot.
Harvey drove to the left wing and pulled up from 25 feet. Fortunately for the Red, the ball hit the back iron and bounced harmlessly to the court.
Seeing extended period at the point guard position for the first time in his collegiate career, freshman Steve Cobb played exceptionally well. Cobb poured in a team-high 18 points, including 12 in the first half. More importantly, he ran the offense efficiently, committing just one turnover in 77 minutes of action in the two games.
“Not many people have stepped up, and I felt that it was my time to help my team win,” Cobb noted. “I love playing point. I just like getting everybody involved.”
Donahue was especially pleased with his rookie’s play.
“Steve had a great 40 minutes. I couldn’t keep him out of the game. He makes our offense run.”
For Cornell, the monkey is finally off its back.
“It’s definitely a relief. We feel like we’ve been playing halfway decent with the exception of [the game] at Princeton,” Prather commented. “It’s kind of pissing us off when you play well and still end up on the losing end. So just to see that hard work pay off was big.”
“It’s so big for what we’re doing,” Donahue added. “Harvard is a good basketball team, and for us to keep that level of intensity for 40 minutes is a huge step for us.”
More importantly, the young players can now hold their heads up.
“You have to walk on the court and be proud. I know there are people that don’t believe in us and see our record, but it doesn’t matter to these guys in the locker room,” Donahue stressed. “It’s alright to be a Cornell basketball player, and we’re going to get this turned around.”
Archived article by Alex Ip