November 27, 2003

Men's Cagers Drop OT Heartbreaker, 84-77

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“It’s all about learning how to win,” said head coach Steve Donahue.

Sometimes it takes a little more than out-hustling or out shooting your opponent; it takes stepping up just a little more at just the right time.

The men’s basketball lost a tough overtime battle to Colgate, 84-77, last night at Newman Arena after the Raiders stopped Cornell’s second half rally just in time to earn an extra period.

The Red held the Colgate scoreless for the first two and a half minutes of overtime, but then Raiders sophomore guard Alvin Reed hit a three with 2:10 left, and teammate Andrew Zidar added a lay-up to put the Colgate up by five. The Raiders iced the game at the line, shooting eight-for-eight in the last minute, as the Cornell tried to get a scoring opportunity.

“Momentum had been big the whole game,” noted junior forward Gabe Stephenson.

Cornell missed a couple easy baskets early in OT, and they proved to be the team’s undoing.

“We got up tight and just started pressing a bit,” said Stephenson.

Coming into halftime, the score stood at 30-39, with the Red facing a nine-point deficit. But, the team came out with some fire, battling back.

Led by Stephenson and junior co-captain Eric Taylor, Cornell started working the defensive boards and getting points inside. Taylor scored 11 of his 13 points in the second, while Stephenson exploded for seven rebounds and 12 points in the period; he finished with 17 points and 12 boards — six offensive and six defensive — leading the team in each category. The point and rebound totals were all career highs for Stephenson.

The play of the big men inside helped junior Cody Toppert get some open looks, allowing him to score 14, including 12 points from beyond the arc. With that, the Red was in business.

“We came back real well in the second half,” said Stephenson.

After working its way back at the beginning of the second, Toppert nailed a three with 8:48 left. That shot sparked a three-minute long, 12-4 run by the Red that put the team on top with 5:49 to go.

Cornell battled the Raiders back and forth the rest of the game until Taylor powered in a basket for two in the paint, drawing a foul and leaving the score at 68-69 in favor of Colgate.

Taylor nailed the free throw to tie the game, and both teams went scoreless over the last 1:54 to send the game into overtime.

In the locker room at halftime, Donahue said he just told his players to keep with the defense and the rebounding, and win the game four minutes at a time.

“I knew we’d play well in the second half,” said the coach.

The team responded to his message, executing its plan and giving itself a chance for the victory.

“I thought we went toe to toe at the end,” said Donahue.

The second half made up for a lackluster first in which the team gave up easy points early on, putting itself at a 2-10 deficit early on.

“We just didn’t play a good first half,” said Stephenson. “We didn’t come out ready to play.”

The Red shot 30.3 percent from the floor to Colgate’s 41.7 percent, and the Raiders outrebounded Cornell,, 20-10, on the defensive end.

By the end of the second, those numbers had nearly reversed, with Cornell hauling in 13 balls to the Raiders’ five and holding Colgate to zero offensive boards.

“I thought we were very inconsistent in our approach,” said Donahue about the game as a whole. “I thought physically we did all right, but we were real impatient on the offensive end.”

The coach did note that he was pleased with the team’s second-half play though.

At halftime, Stephenson said the team’s veterans got together to talk.

“We had a little discussion about our last game in Australia,” he said.

In that game the Red came back from a 20 points down at halftime to earn a victory. This time, the Red almost did it against some competition back home.

“We are a different team than in past years,” said Stephenson.

Archived article by Matt James