February 18, 2002

M. Hoops Drops Ivy Pair

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Lady Luck refused to visit Newman Arena for a second weekend in a row and the men’s basketball team (4-19, 1-9 Ivy) suffered the consequences, losing 85-70 against Yale and 83-80 to Brown. Missed opportunities, untimely turnovers and just plain bad luck all added up to two more marks in the Red’s “L” column.

Against the Bulldogs (16-7, 8-1), the team played a brilliant and emotional first half, challenging the Yale offense at every turn. Four minutes into the game, senior co-captain Wallace Prather hit two 3-pointers from long range to give the Red a 6-2 lead. After the Elis tied the game at six, Cornell reeled off nine straight points in style. Freshman Cody Toppert converted a four-point play, then classmate King Ogbogu picked up a steal, layup and a foul for a three point play. Freshman Eric Taylor hit a jumper to complete the run.

Eleven minutes into the half, the Red held a commanding 10-point advantage. But Yale slowly chipped away, finally regaining the lead on a layup with two minutes left in the half. At then end of the half, Prather’s third trey gave his team a 42-40 lead.

Cornell came out with the same amount of intensity after the break. On its first possession, the team almost completed an impressive alleyoop to Ogbogu, who just barely lost the handle on the entry pass. After Yale tied the game at 44, freshman A.J. Castro scored two quick jumpers to push the lead back up to four. Castro started in place of freshman Steve Cobb, who was out with migraine headaches. After two Eli freethrows, Prather converted the team’s second four-point play of the game. One more free-throw gave the Red a 53-46 advantage with 13 minutes left in the game.

Then suddenly and inexplicably, Yale caught on fire and Cornell couldn’t find its hose. The Elis hit six of their next eight 3-pointers – including three straight by Paul Vitelli en route to gaining a 68-60 lead.

“Vitelli is a very streaky guy,” noted Cornell head coach Steve Donahue. “I know we could have done better on that switch on the screen. We work on that play all the time – but we didn’t do that. We just didn’t execute in the second half: we couldn’t get good shots, we didn’t get the ball down low, we lost our cool.”

Taylor’s jump hook cut the lead to 69-62 with just under five minutes left in the game, but that would be as close as Cornell would get.

“We came unpoised. A.J. Castro did a terrific job for us, but we were getting used to Steve Cobb,” explained Donahue. “We definitely lost our poise. We did a lot of good things on the offensive end for stretches but the last ten minutes we just totally got unglued when they took the lead. I thought a couple of times we had some real good looks at the basket, but we couldn’t get the ball to fall. They did and they got to the foul line and they hammered us on the boards.”

Cornell was outrebounded 51-33 and shot five less freethrows. Prather led the Red with 21 points while Toppert finished with 17. Castro recorded eight assists to go along with nine points while Ogbogu had a team-high seven rebounds. After shooting 42% in the first half, Cornell stumbled to 23% in the second.

“We couldn’t get a stop,” lamented Donahue. “We got the initial stop at times, but we couldn’t get the rebound. Give Yale a lot of credit they crashed hard, they do a lot of things, that was their defensive emphasis. We lost our concentration on the offensive end and for stretches of the game. Yale took command. They made big shot after big shot after big shot, and we can’t answer when they do that.”

On Saturday night, the Red once again played one shaky and one solid half of basketball. Although this time, Cobb returned to the backcourt.

“With Steve at the point guard, it gives us some size there. He’s very good at going to the ball and looking over the defense,” Donahue commented.

Brown used its high flying offense to garner an early 23-14 lead. Three minutes later, after a 4-0 spurt by the Red, junior guard Earl Hunt headed a 9-0 run that gave the Bears a 43-26 lead. Cornell showed some life as junior forward Randy Gabler picked up two blocks on the defensive end. Following a 10-2 run, Cornell again pressed its offense and Toppert responded with a three-pointer to cut Brown’s lead to eight, 47-39. The Bears closed the half with a 4-0 run, but clearly Cornell held the momentum.

The second half saw both teams make runs at each other. The Red used a 22-10 spurt to tie the game at 61. In the run, Taylor recorded three lay-ups, a blocked shot and a rebound while Toppert picked up two big 3-pointers.

Brown then awoke from its 13 minute slumber and picked up 10 straight points, headed by two Hunt 3-pointers. But unlike its game against Yale, Cornell would not back down as it scored five straight points. Hunt and Alai Nuualiitia brought the lead back to 10 with 2:17 left in the game. One minute later, Toppert had given the Red four straight points to leave the score at 78-72.

After two Brown freethrows, Prather nailed one from downtown to cut the lead to five, 80-75. With just under 50 seconds left in the game, Cornell stole the ball and Harrell hit another three to put the game within reach. After Brown hit one of its next two freethrows, Cornell brought the ball into the frontcourt down 81-78.

Toppert scored 18 while Hunt lead both teams with 29. Cobb was solid in his return to the starting lineup, picking up 12 points and five assists. The team outrebounded Brown, 35-31 and shot 47% for the game.

Cornell hits the road to play Harvard and Darmouth next weekend for its final road games of the season.

Archived article by Sumeet Sarin