Ithaca College makes the short trip to Newman Arena tonight, as the Red hosts the Bombers in its home opener at 7 p.m. It is a rematch from last year, when Cornell bested the Division III Bombers by a score of 77-45. The contest is part of the “Coaches vs. Cancer” series, and last year over $1,000 was raised to benefit the American Cancer Society.
Head coach Steve Donahue talked about the opportunity to promote basketball in the area while helping an important cause.
“When the Coaches Association asked us to be involved, it didn’t really take much for us to say yes. We all tried to think of different ways to get involved in such a worthy cause. I thought if we could have one big game night, raise a big chunk of money, it would be a great for everyone,” he said.
The Red comes into tonight’s match-up at 1-1, having lost its most recent game against Colgate, 76-58. Sophomore center Eric Taylor leads the team in scoring, averaging 19.5 points per game (ppg), thanks to shooting 68 percent from the floor. Sophomore swingman Cody Toppert is second in scoring, averaging 11.5 ppg. Toppert has improved upon last year’s shooting percentage, connecting on half of his attempts so far.
Toppert and Taylor will be joined in the starting lineup by junior guard Ka’Ron Barnes, sophomore point guard Steve Cobb, and sophomore power forward Grant Harrell. Barnes needs only nine points against Ithaca to reach 500 for his career, but the tri-captain has not focused on the milestone.
“Personally, I didn’t even know about it until I read about it on a website. Importance wise, it really doesn’t mean much to me. But, I guess it is nice to reach the milestone,” he said.
Off the bench, freshman swingman Lenny Collins has asserted himself as significant presence in the Red’s rotation after just two games. He is the only player to have scored double digits in both games, and is averaging 11.0 ppg. Additionally, the versatile Collins has contributed 5 rebounds per games (rpg) and 3 assists per game (apg) while shooting 53 percent from the field.
Overall, the Red is shooting 52 percent from the floor, including 48 percent from behind the arc. Cornell has been less successful on the boards, especially against Colgate when it was out-rebounded 39-22. Taylor’s 6 rpg and Collins’ 5 rpg pace the Red, which has averaged 30.5 rpg in its first two contests. Another area where the Red must improve is decision making, having committed 17 turnovers per game.
Despite Ithaca’s Division III status, Cornell will not take the Bombers lightly.
Taylor warned, “Just because they’re a Division III team doesn’t mean they aren’t very good. They went to the NCAA Division III tourney last year, and they have some talented players. If we take them lightly, it could be an embarrassment for us.”
Indeed, the Bombers do not lack talent, having finished 16-10 a year ago. Ithaca returns eight letter -winners from last year’s team, including three starters. Three seniors lead this year’s 1-1 IC squad, including Matt Riggins, Jason Wallen, and Will Hill. Wallen, a 6-5 forward, has been the top threat for the Bombers, scoring 19 ppg this season while shooting 52 percent from the floor. A 6-3 swingman, Riggins averaged 12.6 ppg last season, but has scored only 6.0 ppg this year on 4-13 shooting. Hill, a 6-6 forward, has improved upon last year’s scoring totals, averaging 10.5 ppg while chipping in 3.5 rpg in 2002-03. Additionally, 6-5 junior forward Tyler Schulz is another major contributor, scoring 9 ppg and adding a team high 10 rpg.
While the Bombers have the talent to compete with the best teams in Division III, the Division I Red is much improved from last year’s squad that decimated IC by 32 points.
Donahue speculated on the risks and rewards for both squads. “They have nothing to lose in this game. On the other hand, we have a great deal to lose. But, we also have a lot to gain. We only get 27 games a year, and this is a great chance to do a lot of good things. I expect us to be ready,” he said.
Archived article by Mark Fetzko