November 21, 2003

Hoopsters Welcome Yellow Jackets to Newman

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The East Hill is buzzing with anticipation. Sunday marks the beginning of the 2003-04 Cornell men’s basketball season, as the Red faces the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech at 3 p.m. in Newman Arena. It will be the first time since 1990-91, when the North Carolina Tar Heels graced the campus, that an ACC team has visited Cornell.

“It’s a huge game, for the team and for the whole school,” said senior co-captain Ka’Ron Barnes. “The ACC is such a high-level league.”

The Red has played the Ramblin’ Wreck each of the past two seasons, losing both times. Last January in Atlanta, the Red managed only 55 points against the Tech press. However, this year’s team is unfazed by its major-conference foe.

“We’re not intimidated,” said junior two-guard Cody Toppert. “Not intimidated at all.”

“We look at them like they’re just another team,” added Barnes. “I feel like we have real good chance to beat them.”

The Red has reason to be confident. Cornell returns all five of its starters from a season ago, including Toppert and Barnes, a consensus preseason first-team All-Ivy selection. Also back is junior co-captain Eric Taylor, who leads all Ivy returners in rebounding. Reigning Rookie of the Year Lenny Collins and a finally healthy Gabe Stephenson round out the starting lineup.

The Red will need to call upon its veteran experience to combat the press-style employed by the Yellow Jackets. Barnes and Toppert will have to make quick decisions and avoid pressured turnovers as they bring the ball up the court.

“We’ve worked a lot in practice on breaking down their press,” said Toppert.

“I’ve played against pressure my whole life,” said Barnes. “I’m not worried.”

Georgia Tech travels to Ithaca in the midst of the preseason NIT, having beaten Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday and Hofstra yesterday. Tech will play in the semifinals at Madison Square Garden later next week.

The Yellow Jackets are led by junior guard B.J. Elder, who led Georgia Tech in scoring with 17 points on Tuesday. Also returning from last year’s squad are juniors Isma’il Muhammad and Luke Schenscher, a 7-1 center who could give Cornell problems down low.

The Red has spent lots of time in the film room scouting the tendencies of its ACC opponent.

“We’re as prepared as possible for this game,” said Toppert. “We know what we’ve got to exploit — B.J. Elder doesn’t create off the dribble well, Marvin Lewis doesn’t attack the glass. Things like this. Knowing their styles will help us play our game.”

The Red is expecting a large turnout at its season opener and doesn’t expect to disappoint the crowd.

“In previous years, the fans were used to us losing,” said Barnes. “We’re going to be successful this year, and it’s great that everyone is hyped up to see us play.

“We want a big crowd. Any team that’s good, they have that. We need that.”

The nationally-televised game tips off at 3 p.m.

“We’re going to be ready to go,” said Toppert. “Bring the enthusiasm.”

Archived article by Per Ostman