February 16, 2004

Men's Basketball Drops a Pair of Crucial Games

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To get an idea of how important Friday night’s men’s basketball game between Princeton and Cornell was, one needed only watch the 11 p.m. SportsCenter. The matchup between the league’s top two teams was the lead story on the nightly highlight show. Unfortunately for Cornell (10-10, 5-2 Ivy), though, the Red was unable to live up to its billing as the top team in the conference Friday, falling to the Tigers, 69-64, in front of a sellout crowd of 4,473 at Newman Arena.

“I thought Princeton played well,” said Cornell head coach Steve Donahue, who falls to 1-6 against the Tigers lifetime. “I thought they played a lot better than they had been playing, they moved the basketball well. There’s nothing we can do about it now, we’re going to get them again down at their place.”

After controlling the game early, the Red came apart late in the first half, allowing Princeton (12-7, 5-1) to go on a 13-4 run to take the lead for the first time with 4:25 remaining before the half. However, Cornell stuck with the Tigers, trailing by only three at halftime, 28-25.

The difference was at the start of the second half, when Princeton came out blazing. The Tigers jumped out to an 11-point lead with 12:30 remaining, then held off a furious Cornell charge throughout the remainder of the half to hold on to the five-point win.

“When you get down by nine or 11 against Princeton, you’re fighting an uphill battle,” Donahue said. “They didn’t run their offense, they basically ran the clock and made us go one-on-one.”

Leading the way for the Tigers were Will Venable and Judson Wallace. Venable led all scorers with 28 points on a blistering 9-for-12 from the floor. Wallace rebounded from a string of sub-standard performances, scoring 22 points and pulling down nine rebounds in 31 minutes.

“I thought that they played very well,” said Princeton head coach John Thompson III of his high-scoring duo. “Judson … worked. He put in a full day’s work. Will was able to get to the basket a little bit. But Will did a good job for us.”

Venable was a particularly challenging enigma for the Red, giving the Cornell defense fits all night.

“He played real well. He’s quick and he’s strong, the kid’s just got a good game,” said senior co-captain Ka’Ron Barnes. “Every time he scored he just stepped up and did that. We should have played off him a little bit more, and tried to make him shoot, but he’s been hitting his jump shot lately.”

On the other end, the Princeton defense was very effective in keeping Cornell’s high-scoring duo of Barnes and junior Cody Toppert under wraps. The Tigers guarded Barnes and Toppert tough all night long, limiting Toppert to just eight points. Barnes was only able to garner two assists to go along with his team-high 25 points.

Thompson credited the win to strong execution on both ends of the court.

“We knew coming in against this team that we’d have to play very well and we’d have to execute at both ends of the floor,” he said. “I think Cody and Ka’Ron clearly get a lot of attention because of the numbers that they put on the board, but they have guys who can hurt you in so many ways. [Gabe] Stephenson and [Eric] Taylor hit the boards. I thought our team as a whole did a good job of making the shots that they got hard.”

Archived article by Owen Bochner