For a little while on Friday night, it looked as if this would be the weekend that the men’s basketball team would make its breakthrough in the ranks of the Ivy League. The Red was putting forth an effort to match that of league tri-champion Penn, the score was within five points, and with the men’s hockey game having just ended, Newman Arena was packed and rowdy.
Even though Cornell (7-12, 2-4 Ivy) lost that game to Penn (12-5, 4-0) 70-67 as junior Ka’Ron Barnes’ last-second 3-point attempt rimmed out, it seemed as if everything was going to be alright in the world of Cornell Athletics.
That is, until Saturday night.
Perhaps a bit deflated following the emotional performance of a night before, the Red dropped its fourth straight to Princeton (10-7, 4-0) by a score of 67-49 to fall into a fifth-place tie with Harvard in league play.
Friday night, Cornell had an answer for everything Penn could throw its way. The Quakers went on a run, Cornell fought back. Penn attempted to drive the lane, a Red player drew the charge. Cornell had luck on its side as well, as Penn missed five crucial free throws down the stretch.
“I thought we did everything physically that we could to win the basketball game,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “We were tough, we battled, I thought we ran a good offense. Mentally there were some slip-ups, but [Penn’s] a great team and they took advantage of them at key times.”
After scoring the game’s first basket, the Red allowed Penn to go on an early run and found itself in 14-4 hole 5:20 into the game. But a flurry of 3-pointers brought the Red right back.
A layup by sophomore center Eric Taylor with 2:40 left in the half made it a tie-game at 31-31, and the Red would go into halftime trailing the top team in the Ancient Eight by only four points, 34-38.
Cornell came out very strong in the early going of the second half, outscoring the Quakers 13-5 over the half’s opening five minutes to take a four-point lead. But Penn responded, going on a 13-2 run to open up a game-high 11-point lead at 60-49 with nine minutes left, in part due to some lackluster play for a brief period by the shell-shocked Red.
While fighting for a rebound off a missed 3-point attempt by freshman David Lisle, sophomore forward Cody Toppert was hit on the head and suffered a deep laceration above his eyes. The game was stopped for several minutes as he was helped off the floor. The cut would require about 10 stitches after the game. Following Toppert’s injury, Penn scored eight points to the Red’s two to extend the lead to 60-49.
But, following a timeout, the Red again fought back. With the help of three rebounds by Toppert, who returned to the game after having his head wrapped in a tourniquet, Cornell cut the Penn lead to 56-62 with 3:23 remaining.
“We were down 11 and we came back,” said Donahue. “When teams raise their level, we collapse. They gave us their knockout punch, and we answered it, that was real encouraging to me.”
A Taylor layup with 40 seconds remaining brought the score to 66-62, the closest the Red had been in over 12 minutes. In the final 20 seconds, Barnes scored five points and Penn’s Andrew Toole and David Klatsky each missed free-throw attempts to allow the Red to cut the lead to just one with 11 seconds left.
Lisle immediately fouled Penn guard Jeff Schiffner, who converted on both of his free throws to give Penn a three-point lead. With the clock winding down, Cornell raced down the floor, and Barnes put up a last-second three-point attempt that just rimmed out and the Quakers escaped with the win.
“Cornell did a terrific job. We survived,” said an exhausted Penn head coach Fran Dunphy afterwards.
On the game, the Red shot 25-47 from the field for a sparkling 53 percent. Cornell tallied 19 assists while turning the ball over only 13 times. Nine different players scored for the Red, led by Taylor’s 17 and Barnes’ 11.
The Quakers had five players score in double digits, led by 12 apiece from forward Ugonna Onyekwe and Toole.
Toppert had a game-high six rebounds, three of which came after his injury.
“He’s started every game since I’ve been here because that’s just the way he is, he’s a warrior whether he makes shots or he doesn’t, he goes and makes six rebounds tonight,” said Donahue. “It’s a huge gash, and it’s unbelievable that he wanted to go back in, he was not feeling good.”
Lisle made his first career start for the Red, scoring eight points with five assists and two blocks in 36 minutes.
Cornell also shifted to a man-to-man defense after playing a zone for the majority of the season.
“Penn’s too good to play zone. They’re so good when the ball stops moving,” explained Donahue. “For them to only get 10 assists on only 27 baskets, that’s what we wanted. I just think if we play zone, we lose by 30.”
The wheels fell off early for Cornell Saturday night, as Princeton went on 12-0 run five minutes into the game and never looked back en route to the 67-49 win.
The Red was plagued by sloppy passing all night long, turning the ball over 25 times. Despite shooting a respectable 47 percent from the floor and outrebounding the Tigers 24-22, the number of turnovers spelled the Red’s doom.
“That’s obviously a horrendous number,” said Donahue. “I think Princeton’s a good basketball team but they’d be the first to admit that this was us not being able to handle any kind of pressure at all.”
Barnes was the lone bright spot for Cornell, scoring a game-high 19 points on 6-8 shooting.
“He made some difficult shots, and he played well and he played hard, and that’s what a leader does,” said Donahue.
Cornell did start to show some signs of life mid-way through the second half, scoring a few baskets in a row, including a 3-pointer off a fast break by freshman Casey Gibbons. However, Princeton had five steals in a three-minute stretch and ran the lead up to a game-high 67-44 before winning by the 67-49 final.
Cornell threw away 12 passes over the course of the game.
The Tigers were led by guard Ed Persia, who scored 16, and forward Ray Robins, who scored 14 in 18 minutes off the bench. Forward Spencer Gloger had a game-high four assists to go with his 11 points.
Archived article by Owen Bochner