The men’s basketball team overcame a modest five-point halftime deficit to defeat Bucknell 64-60, with sophomores Eric Taylor and Cody Toppert and junior Ka’Ron Barnes accounting for all 22 Cornell field goals. The talented trio scored 60 of Cornell’s points, with sophomore forward Grant Harrell hitting four free throws down the stretch to help the Red improve to 6-8. Meanwhile, the Red was able to contain the Bison’s top scoring threat, Boakai Lalugba, limiting the forward to two field goals and 10 points overall.
“To be able to limit a kid like Lalugba to ten points, that’s unbelievable,” commented Cornell head coach Steve Donahue.
The early shooting of freshman guard Kevin Bettencourt spotted the Bison an early 13-6 lead just five minutes into the game, but a 3-point play by Taylor with 6:37 left gave the Red its first lead at 19-18. However, Bucknell regained the lead quickly, thanks to a powerful dunk by Lalugba. Additionally, the late 3-point shooting of Chris Niesz and Chris Rogers extended the Bison’s lead to 33-28 at the half.
Despite the outside shooting of Bucknell, Donahue decided to stay with a zone defense, saying, “We can’t come out of a zone, that’s who we are right now. We can do some different things with it. We can press, we can trap, we can extend it, but we can’t play man-to-man against a team like that,” alluding to Bucknell’s inside strength.
After a quick basket by center Davorin Skornik put Bucknell up by seven to begin the second half, Cornell mounted a 9-0 run, prompting Bucknell head coach Pat Flannery to call a timeout with 17:26 left in the game. It was to little avail, as Toppert hit another jump shot to extend the streak to 11-0, extending Cornell’s lead to 39-35. During the run, the sophomore shooting guard scored eight points, hitting two 3-point shots and a long jumper just inside the arc.
Toppert attributed the Red’s quick start in the second half to Donahue’s halftime talk, saying, “Coach came in and he was really positive. He told us we were down five and we played a really bad half, which was obvious. We didn’t come out and execute our game plan. We made some minor adjustments to the zone and came out, and as opposed to chasing them, we were one step ahead of them. When that happened everything just started to open up for everybody.”
A 3-pointer by Barnes with under 12 minutes to play extended Cornell’s lead to 47-40, but it soon dwindled down to two. Despite the absence of Lalugba due to foul trouble, the Bison closed the gap to 47-45 at the 10-minute mark on a 3-pointer by Niesz and a basket by Ben Slater.
Lalugba re-entered the game with 6:50 left with the Bison down 51-47, hitting two foul shots to make it 51-49 with under six minutes to go. Barnes and Bettencourt traded 3-pointers before Taylor converted on a layup to make it 56-52. Taylor was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw. However, Harrell got the rebound and was fouled. He hit both free throws to extend the Red’s lead to 58-52 with 1:40 left. The free throws marked the first points by any Cornell player other than Toppert, Taylor, and Barnes.
Donahue commented on the team’s unorthodox scoring distribution, saying, “You figure it would be a long night. It was a crazy game