Riding the emotional high of overcoming a 14-point deficit in its 68-63 victory against Harvard on Friday night, the men’s basketball team was primed to grab its first Ivy home sweep of the Steve Donahue era on Senior Night against lowly Dartmouth at Newman Arena.
Saturday’s game against the Green starting fittingly: popular, but seldom used senior guard and tri-captain Jacques Vigneault connected on a 3-pointer from the left corner to put the Red up 3-0, creating a frenzy amongst the crowd of 3,199. However, by the time Vigneault and fellow senior Brandon Barton’s home careers were over, the crowd’s enthusiasm and the Red’s hopes for its first Ivy home sweep since Donahue’s appointment had dissipated, with Dartmouth pulling away late to win 70-53.
While Saturday’s setback against the Green imperiled the Red’s hopes for its first 10-win season since 1999-2000, Friday’s victory against Harvard provided hope for the future.
After jumping out to a 5-0 lead on a 3-pointer by freshman forward Lenny Collins and a jumper by sophomore forward Cody Toppert, the Red’s offense went comatose, failing to score for over five minutes while Harvard staked claim to a 12-5 lead. Toppert broke the drought, converting on a 3-pointer with 13:25 in the half remaining to make it 12-8, but the strong inside play of Harvard’s Sam Winter helped the Crimson extend its lead to 26-13 with just under nine minutes left in the first half.
“It was a terrific effort. I thought Harvard came out really determined. They’re an experienced group and wanted to come out with a knockout punch and take care of us,” explained Donahue of Harvard’s early dominance.
The Red’s dormant offense awoke in the final minutes of the half, closing out on an 8-4 run to cut the Harvard lead to 35-26.
At the half, Winter had 10 points to lead Harvard, while sophomore guard Steve Cobb, averaging just 1.3 ppg coming into the game, led the Red with eight points. Toppert was second amongst Red scorers with seven points on 3-7 shooting, while the Red’s leading scorer on the season, junior point guard Ka’Ron Barnes, finished the half with one point and three fouls.
Just 1-15 on the year when trailing at halftime, the Red slowly played itself back into the game, playing with a confidence not apparent in the first half.
Barnes commented, “We thought that they gave us their best shot in the first half and we were still only down nine, so we figured if we could tighten up our play and pick up our intensity we could come out with the victory.”
A 3-point play by Barnes and a Gabe Stephenson free throw cut the deficit to 46-41 with 12:34 in the game to rejuvenate the Red, but the Crimson’s Sam Rogus scored five consecutive points to extend the lead back to double digits with just under twelve minutes remaining, making it look like the Red would not have enough energy to complete a comeback.
However, the Red went on a 13-2 run to claim its first lead since early in the first half. Barnes and Toppert scored five points each and sophomore center Eric Taylor added three during the key run as Cornell claimed a 54-53 lead with 8:26 remaining.
Harvard refused to fold down the stretch though, with a lay-up by freshman center Brian Cusworth cutting the Red’s lead to 64-63 with just over three minutes to play. Nonetheless, strong defense and solid free throw shooting by the Red down the stretch sealed a five-point victory.
Inconsistent all year at the charity stripe, the Red hit 15 of 20 free throws in the second half while Harvard converted on just four of 12.
Cornell’s second-half comeback was just its second of the year, with Barnes and Toppert leading the way. Barnes scored 14 of his 15 points in the final 20 minutes, finishing 4-8 from the field and 6-9 from the line. He also added a game-high eight assists along with two steals.
“It’s his team, everyone knows that. I’m hoping that the league realizes that he’s one of the better guards. For us to win four games so far, he has a great amount to do with that. I definitely think he is one of the better players in the league,” commented Donahue about Barnes after Friday’s victory.
Meanwhile, Toppert, in a shooting slump for most of the Ivy League season, scored 18 points on 7-12 shooting, hitting 3-7 shots from 3-point range.
“It’s been a long time coming if you ask me. It’s just one of those things when you kind of hit a lull, and it becomes mental. But, just going out tonight and playing well and relaxing and doing what I know I can do, it feels good,” said Toppert about his shooting performance against the Crimson.
In addition to the play of Barnes and Toppert, Taylor, the Red’s lone inside presence, added nine points and eight rebounds.
For the Crimson, Winter led the way with 17 points and 7 rebounds while frontcourt mate Cusworth added 10 points and 10 rebounds in just 20 minutes off the bench. Harvard was undone by its outside shooting however, finishing just 6-25 from beyond the arc, and a dismal 7-19 performance from the line.
While Harvard struggled from outside against the Red, Dartmouth put together one of its best shooting performances on the season, pulling away in the second half to create a three-way tie between the Red, Green, and Crimson for fifth place in the Ivy League.
The Green was led by Mike McLaren’s game-high 24 points and seven 3-pointers, with Dartmouth hitting 14 shots from beyond the arc on the night. Despite the hot shooting of the Green, the Red looked poised in the first half to collect its first Ivy home sweep in some time, riding a 7-0 run over the last three minutes of the first half to go into the break up 28-27.
Barnes and Taylor led the Red with six points apiece at the half, with Taylor pulling down five boards as well. Meanwhile, McLaren finished the half with a quiet six points. Reserve Greg Friel led the Green with eight first-half points, converting on 3 of 5 shots.
In the second half, neither the Red nor Green would give ground early, with a rare 3-pointer by Stephenson locking the game at 41 with 12:24 to go. The Green pulled out to a 52-47 advantage with 6:24 to play, but Collins made one of his three 3-pointers on the night to make it 52-50.
However, the 3-point shooting of Dartmouth and the Red’s second half struggles at the free throw line allowed the Green to pull away in the game’s final minutes. Dartmouth’s Charles Harris hit a 3 to extend the lead back to five before McLaren nailed two 3-pointers and two free throws to increase the margin to 63-50 and essentially seal the game with just over three minutes to play.
“I thought we gave McLaren too many good looks, but he hit some tough shots. I thought he went unconscious in the second half,” said Collins after the game.
While McLaren was busy scoring 18 of his 24 points in the second half, with 15 points coming on shots beyond the arc, Cornell was putting together one of the worst free throw shooting displays in memory. The Red missed on all 10 of its second half free throw attempts, including eight by Taylor, damaging any chances it had for victory.
Additionally, Cornell was outrebounded by the Green 22-13 in the second half as the Green collected six offensive boards after being held to zero in the first 20 minutes of play.
For Dartmouth, Friel was the only player joining McLaren in double figures with 14 points. The Green’s leading scorer, Charles Harris, was held to seven points, but had a team-high eight rebounds.
Meanwhile, Cornell was paced by Collins’ 13-point effort with Taylor and Barnes contributing 12 and 11, respectively. Barnes struggled from
the field, shooting just 4-13, while Taylor shot 5-7 from the floor. Taylor also added nine rebounds.
Toppert, who led the team with 18 against Harvard, struggled with just three points on 1-6 shooting.
“We didn’t play our best game tonight. We have to learn how to play two good games back to back. We haven’t figured that out yet. I’m obviously frustrated, but that’s where we’re at,” admitted a dejected Donahue after the loss to Dartmouth.
At 9-16, 4-8 in the Ivy League, the Red closes out its 2002-03 season next weekend against perennial Ivy League powers Penn and Princeton, putting its chances of finishing the season with at least 10 victories in danger. However, if the Red can replicate its performances in the two wins against Harvard and the 70-67 loss to Penn earlier in the year next weekend, perhaps Cornell can finish the season with double-digit wins for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
Archived article by Mark Fetzko