January 20, 2003

M. Hoops Grabs Ivy Opener

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Following a sloppy first half for both sides, the men’s basketball team (5-8, 1-0 Ivy) bounced back in the second half to defeat Columbia (2-12, 0-1) 51-38 Saturday night in its Ivy opener at Newman Arena. Sophomore forward Grant Harrell scored 15 for the Red in the victory, shooting four of five from behind the arc.

Both teams struggled to put points on the board early in the game, combining for 17 turnovers and 23 percent shooting in a first half that ended in a 17-13 Cornell lead. The game remained scoreless for the first three minutes of play before junior Ka’ron Barnes converted on two free throws to give the Red its first lead of the game.

Cornell went on a brief run at that point and built up a 15-7 lead about midway through the half. Despite being outscored by Columbia 6-2 over the first half’s final seven minutes, the Red never trailed.

“I thought we did a very good job putting pressure on them in the full court and then falling back into the zone,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “Columbia does a great job defending. It’s very difficult to score against them in the half court.”

Cornell came out much stronger in the second half as sophomore guard Cody Toppert sank a 15-footer in the half’s opening seconds. The Red improved its shooting substantially in the half, shooting 48 percent from the field and a stellar 85 percent from the free throw line.

Six minutes into the half, the Red began to pull away as sophomore center Gabe Stephenson drew a foul on a layup and hit the ensuing free throw to extend the Cornell lead to 28-15. Of the 34 points Cornell scored in the second stanza, Harrell netted 12 and Barnes assisted on 10. The Red out-rebounded Columbia 19-12 in the half, including 14 boards on the defensive glass to the Lions’ seven.

“We just needed to take our time and be poised with the ball,” Stephenson said, “just find the rim and finish the shots we could finish.”

Columbia forward Marco McCottry led all scorers with 16. He was the only Lions player to score in double digits. For the Red, Toppert added 10 points to Harrell’s team-leading 15, and sophomore center Eric Taylor pulled down 10 rebounds. Columbia’s Chris Wiedemann also pulled down a team-best 10 rebounds.

More importantly, the Red was able to play its game against Columbia, especially in the second half.

“We brought energy tonight and that’s huge,” said Harrell. “Energy for this team is the most important thing. Once we bring the energy defensively, offensively everything starts clicking.”

Stephenson scored seven points with four rebounds in 12 minutes in just his seventh game back from injury.

“Gabe has done a great job getting his body in condition,” said Donahue. “He’s a little rusty basketball-wise, but he’s stronger, much quicker, healthier. He wasn’t really healthy last year, so you’re seeing a guy who’s going to be much more productive as the year goes on.”

With the victory, the Red equaled last year’s win total. It was also the first time since the 1997-98 season that Cornell won its Ivy opener. That season, Cornell beat Dartmouth 63-51 in Newman Arena.

The two Ivy foes meet again next Saturday in New York City in a game that will be televised by the YES Network. Before then, the Red will host Bucknell tomorrow in its final non-conference game of the season. Looking ahead, Cornell will be playing four of its next five games beginning tomorrow.

“We need to establish ourselves in the league and establish our home court,” said Stephenson. “Let people know that they can’t come into Ithaca anymore and have an easy ride with it.”

Archived article by Owen Bochner