Cornell faces Columbia tomorrow evening, looking to improve to 2-0 in Ivy League play for the first time since the 1994-1995 season. Overall, the Red brings a 6-8 record and a two-game win streak into the game against the Lions, who have dropped five straight en route to a 2-12 start. The match-up will be the 200th between the two teams, with Columbia leading the series 116-83. However, the Red has already defeated the Light Blue this season, beating Columbia 51-38 last Saturday.
One of the worst teams in Division I basketball, Columbia averages only 47.6 ppg on 35 percent shooting and has not won since a 55-54 victory against Texas-El Paso on Dec. 27. Columbia’s anemic offense is led by senior Marco McCottry, who leads the team in scoring at 8.8 ppg. Though undersized at 6-4, the forward hits the boards with authority, averaging a team-high 7.9 rpg. In last week’s loss to Cornell, McCottry led all scorers with a career-high 16 points on 5-11 shooting.
“He does a terrific job understanding his role. He’s the best rebounder they’ve had since I’ve been here. They’ve never had anybody go after the ball like he goes after it. So, I give him a lot of credit,” commented Cornell head coach Steve Donahue.
At center for the Lions is 6-10 senior Chris Wiedeman. He averaged respectable totals of 7.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg, and 2.5 bpg last season, but has seen his numbers suffer this year due to injury. He has missed seven games on the year, struggling to averages of 4.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, and 2.6 bpg. When he is healthy, Columbia’s all-time leading shot blocker provides an intimidating inside presence, having led the Ivy League in blocked shots the past two years. In the loss to Cornell last week, he had only three points but recorded a season-high ten rebounds. Additionally, his defensive presence helped limit sophomore forward Eric Taylor to just eight points.
“Eric Taylor had to work for every point he got [against Wiedeman], and he hadn’t had that problem all year. Wiedeman does a terrific job on Eric because of his size and he just knows where to block shots,” said Donahue, complementing Wiedeman on his defensive effort.
Joining Wiedeman and McCottry in the frontcourt is sophomore Tito Hill. Like McCottry, Hill is undersized, measuring in at just 6-3. He scores 6.6 ppg while contributing 2.1 rpg.
The backcourt is led by freshman Dalen Cuff and sophomore Jeremiah Boswell. Cuff averages just 2.3 ppg. Though he failed to score last Saturday against the Red, Cuff recorded four assists and five rebounds, both career highs. Boswell, the Lions second leading scorer, averages 7.9 ppg, but suffered one of his worst shooting performances against Cornell. He managed just 3 points on 1 for 11 shooting from the floor. As a team, the Lions were dreadful from the floor against the Red, hitting just 12 of 49 field goal attempts.
While Columbia has lost five in a row, the Red is riding a modest two-game win streak. Additionally, last week’s victory against the Lions marked the first time in five years that the Red has begun an Ivy season with a win.
Consequently, the team’s confidence level is at a season high. Junior point guard Ka’Ron Barnes said, “We’re working so hard and we’re seeing results, winning games. As long as we keep winning games everybody’s confidence is going to stay up. Our guys just won’t get down.”
Sophomore forward Grant Harrell’s confidence is certainly on the rise as he has averaged 10 ppg on 52 percent shooting over his last six games. The sophomore is unconcerned with Columbia’s methodical, slow-it-down style that limited Cornell to just 17 points at halftime and 51 points overall last weekend.
“We’re not scared to run our offense against their defense for a long time if we have to. We’re not scared to get quick looks either. Whatever is available. We’re not going to let their slowing the game down take us out of what we do. We can play both styles,” said Harrell, who stepped up with 15 points and seven rebounds in last weekend’s victory.
Taylor added eight points and 10 rebounds against the Light Blue and is coming off an impressive 21 point, eight rebound performance against Bucknell. Three-time Ivy Rookie of the Week and fellow forward Lenny Collins was held scoreless versus the Bison, but contributed four points and six rebounds in helping the Red defeat the Lions.
The backcourt of sophomore Cody Toppert and Barnes is averaging 12.7 and 12.0 ppg respectively and combined for 39 against Bucknell. Against Columbia, Barnes scored only seven points, but managed to distribute seven assists. Toppert contributed 10 points on 5-9 shooting. Off the bench, Donahue hopes Gabe Stephenson will be able to duplicate last Saturday’s output against the Lions. In only 12 minutes of action, the 6-8 sophomore scored seven points and four rebounds. Additionally, the forward had seven rebounds against Bucknell and will see his minutes rise as the Ivy League season progresses.
“He does an excellent job on the boards