February 24, 2003

M. Cagers Drop League Pair

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Cornell failed to avenge two early league losses to Yale and Brown despite the inspired play of Ka’Ron Barnes, falling 70-52 to the Bulldogs on Friday night and 70-62 to the Bears on Saturday evening. The junior point guard set a career high with 25 points last weekend against Harvard and erased that record by erupting for thirty points against Brown, finishing with forty-three points on the weekend.

“I don’t know what it is, I’ve just been doing whatever I have to do to try to help the team to win. I wasn’t shooting the three very well this past weekend, so I just started taking it to the hole more and creating better shots. I’ve just been able to read the defenses well and take what’s available,” said Barnes.

Unfortunately, the rest of the team could not match the play of Barnes, as Cornell fell to 8-15 overall and 3-7 in Ivy League play, good for a fifth place tie with Harvard in the league standings. With only four games left, Cornell’s chances of reaching the ten-win plateau for the first time in the Steve Donahue era appear in jeopardy, as does a first division finish. Fourth place Yale stands at 6-4 in Ivy play, three games ahead of the Red.

Losers of five of six going into the weekend, Cornell came out sluggish against the Elis, quickly falling behind 11-0 as Yale’s T.J. McHugh and Ime Archibong sparked an early run with four points apiece. After a three-point play by the Red’s Lenny Collins, Yale scored seven in a row to extend the lead to 18-3. Scoring just one field goal until 14:26 of the first half, Cornell was fortunate to go into the half down by just 11, 30-19.

“We were so hyped up coming in, and we wanted to beat them so badly after losing at home, that I think we wanted to do too much. We didn’t play our regular game and do what we needed to do to win, especially early on,” said Barnes.

While Barnes had a respectable seven points at the half, the Red was just 0-7 from three-point range going into the break and had been out-rebounded 20-13. Meanwhile, Yale was led by center McHugh and forward Mark Lovett, who went into the half with six points each.

Having won just one game when trailing at halftime, Cornell quickly scored the first four points of the second half to provide some hope for a second half comeback, closing the gap to just seven points. However, the Bulldogs pulled away shortly thereafter, extending their lead to 48-28 with 13:21 left, mirroring the first meeting between the teams when Yale pulled away in the second half en route to a 76-47 victory. Only the late contributions of Barnes and freshman David Lisle helped the Red avoid a similar finish, but the Red would draw no closer than 14 the rest of the game. Lisle finished with a game-high 14 points and four rebounds.

“A team like Yale plays aggressively, and some guys didn’t adjust. But David does a great job in any environment. He can go by you if you guard him close, but he can step back and hit a deep shot as well. He rebounds too and just does a lot of different things to help the team,” said Donahue of Lisle.

Barnes finished second to Lisle with 13 points and four assists while sophomore Eric Taylor chipped in with 10 points and 7 rebounds. However, the Red shot just 36 percent, including 2-14 from three-point range.

Yale, which improved to 12-11, was led by McHugh’s 13 points on 4-5 shooting and Chris Leanza’s 12 points. Leanza was effective from beyond the arc, hitting 3 of 5 threes. The Elis’ leading scorer on the season, Edwin Draughan, was limited to eight points, but contributed fiveassists. As a team, the Elis shot forty-six percent, including 52 percent in the second half. Additionally, forward Matt Minoff spearheaded a strong rebounding effort, leading the team with nine, as the Elis out-rebounded the Red 39-27.

The beginning of Saturday’s game was a reversal of the previous night, as Cornell jumped out to a 10-2 lead and forced four early Brown turnovers. The Bears responded as Jason Forte scored five points during a 10-2 run to tie the game at 12. The teams traded baskets and were tied at 22 when Brown’s Patrick Powers and Forte sparked a 9-0 run with a breakaway dunk and a three-point play, respectively. Cornell closed to within four, but Earl Hunt’s last second jumper put Brown up 33-27 at the half.

The first twenty minutes were a showcase for two of the Ivy League’s best guards, Brown’s Forte and Cornell’s Barnes, with Forte tallying 13 first half points, on his way to an 18-point, five assist, and four steal night. Barnes had 11 points in the first half, keeping the Red within sight of Brown.

Cornell started quickly in the second half, cutting the margin to three before Earl Hunt countered with back-to-back three pointers to extend Brown’s lead to 39-30. Hunt, who struggled in the first half with only four points, energized the Bears offense in the second half. Brown pulled ahead by a game-high eleven points at 57-46 with just seven minutes left.

The Red refused to fold, however, with Barnes scoring eight of his 19 second-half points in a two-minute flurry, cutting the deficit to 61-54 with 4:30 left. Despite Barnes’ herculean second half effort, Cornell never managed to pull closer than six, falling 70-62.

Overall, Cornell’s play against Brown was a stark improvement compared to its performance the night before, but the Red could not overcome the threesome of Hunt, Forte, and center Alai Nuualiitia. Hunt finished with 20 points, five rebounds, and four assists while Nuualiitia added 12 points and 11 rebounds, including five on the offensive boards. As a team, Brown outrebounded the Red 44-31, reversing a recent trend that saw the Red control the boards in seven of its previous nine games.

For Cornell, Barnes finished with an exceptional 30-point night on 14-28 shooting. He added four assists, three rebounds, and three steals. It was one of the best individual performances of Donahue’s tenure at Cornell.

“He was tremendous all night. At one point he was 13 of 19 before we had to start putting up desperation shots in the last few minutes. He was just incredible. He did everything in his power to help us rebound and get a win on Saturday, but he just didn’t get enough help,” said Donahue.

Collins added 11 points and four rebounds while Taylor added 10 points and five boards. Cody Toppert, who finished scoreless against Yale, rebounded with nine points on 4-8 shooting. However, the long-range marksman failed to convert on any three-point attempts as the Red struggled to a 2-17 performance from three-point range. On the weekend, Cornell finished just 4-31 from beyond the arc.

“I don’t know what the problem is,” commented Barnes. “Teams are scouting us and know we like to shoot the three and are pressuring us up front more. But, teams are also doubling and tripling Eric [Taylor] down low and he’s finding us for open shots, but we’re having trouble making them. I don’t know, maybe it’s just bad luck.”

Cornell returns home this weekend, hoping to reverse its run of bad luck and eager to sweep Dartmouth and Harvard in its final home games of the year, and post its first ten-victory season since 1999-2000. Nonetheless, Donahue’s main focus is not reaching the elusive double-digits win total, but rather seeing an improved Cornell team down the stretch. Still, getting to 10 wins is something some Cornell players have acknowledged as being an important step in the program’s attempt to gain respect throughout the Ivy League.

“I believe we want to get to at least ten wins this year to show how we’ve progressed as a program and to set ourselves up for success next year,” said Barnes. “We want to show ourselves that we can go out and win and overcome adversity … We’re not that far from making a statement, and we’re still
confident that if we play our best down the stretch we’ll get some wins.”

Archived article by Mark Fetzko