The men’s basketball team had revenge on its mind after being embarrassed by Princeton, 60-38, in the teams’ first meeting at Jadwin Gym. While the Red (5-22, 2-12 Ivy) came up on the short end of a 61-57 decision on Friday night, it showed drastic improvement in its rematch with the first-place Tigers (16-9, 11-2).
Cornell, which had scored just nine points in the first half of the game at Princeton, eclipsed that mark just five minutes into Friday’s contest. The Red stormed out of the gates, hitting on 55 percent of its shots in the frame, and headed into the locker room with a 28-25 lead.
More impressively, the Red’s defense clamped down on one of the most efficient offensive teams in college basketball. Princeton, which is known for getting easy backdoor layups, was forced into settling for long-range jump shots.
“We’re going to try to play aggressive as we can. Not give up backdoors, but we’re going to be aggressive,” Cornell head coach Steve Donahue said of his team’s strategy. “I think we did a great job. We forced them to put the ball on the floor and made them run plays.”
After the Red scored the first basket of the second half, Princeton went on a 10-5 run to even the score at 35 apiece. Konrad Wysocki and Ahmed El-Nokali keyed the rally, each hitting 3-pointers in the stretch. The game was close the rest of the way, with the largest margin being just seven points.
Trailing 51-44 with less than four minutes remaining, Cornell made a sterling comeback that fell just short. Freshman center Eric Taylor secured an offensive rebound and scored to cut the deficit to five. Then, after Taylor split a pair of free throws, freshman forward Grant Harrell soared into the lane and tipped in a missed jumper by freshman Cody Toppert. Toppert would make his next shot, however, a 3-pointer with 1:37 remaining that brought his team within one point.
However, on Princeton’s next possession, Kyle Wente delivered a dagger into Cornell. With less than 10 ticks on the shot clock, Wente drove to the baseline and hit an eight-foot jumper to bring the lead to three.
Cornell still had a chance to tie on its next possession, but senior co-captain Wallace Prather was forced into an air ball on a 3-point attempt with the shot clock winding down. The Red tried to close the gap by fouling, but the Tigers hit their last eight foul shots to secure the victory. For the night, Princeton shot 20-24 from the charity stripe compared to just 7-15 for Cornell.
“They knocked down foul shot after foul shot when they had to,” Donahue said.
Toppert led the Red with 16 points while Taylor and Prather added 13 each. Wente led the Tigers with 14, with Wysocki and El-Nokali scoring 13 and 11, respectively.
After the debacle at Princeton several weeks ago, the Red must take solace in its solid play, particularly in the first half.
“They came out and played well and made us look bad,” Princeton head coach John Thompson III described of Cornell’s play in the first stanza. “They executed their offense very well.”
Donahue noted that the game showed major improvement in his squad.
“The way we played down there and the way we played up here, there’s a huge growth in our guys. We do a couple more plays, and we beat the best team in the league,” he said.
Thompson agreed with his counterpart’s assessment.
“They’re workers. It would have been easy for that group to pack it up a long time ago, but they haven’t,” he added. “You look at the tapes and we’ve noticed that they have continued to get better as the year’s gone on. They’re going to see the benefit of that soon.”
In the game, Cornell dominated the interior, outrebounding Princeton 29-25. Taylor in particular, was effective, scoring 13 points and leading the club with seven rebounds.
“We had to have a great effort out of Eric and Randy. Eric did a terrific job of decision-making and he controlled the block,” Donahue added.
“[Taylor] hurt us,” Thompson concurred. “They did a good job of throwing it up and getting it.”
In the end, however, Princeton’s experience made the difference.
“They did not allow us to take it from them. We didn’t give it to them. They’re a good team,” Donahue noted. “That’s what good teams do. They figure out a way to get it done.”
Archived article by Alex Ip