March 8, 2004

Cagers Fall in Finale

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Two games, two last-second surges, two gut-wrenching results. The men’s basketball team dropped its final games of the season this past weekend, ending the 2003-04 campaign with five straight losses and a fifth-place finish in the Ivy League. The 61-64 loss to Yale and the 66-69 loss to Brown were also the final collegiate games for senior co-captain Ka’Ron Barnes. Though the point guard is a candidate for conference Player of the Year, the weekend was hardly the desired capstone to his career.

“The losses were pretty tough,” said Barnes. “I’d love to have ended the season with two wins. Coach told us that not too many [Cornell] teams had finished better than 8-6, so it would have been nice to leave a mark in the history books.”

After twenty minutes of shot-for-shot one-upmanship that produced eight ties, The Red led Yale at the half, 36-34. Cornell’s offense seemed to be clicking; Junior Cody Toppert dialed long distance three times and Barnes hooked up with junior Gabe Stephenson on a perfect alley-oop. Defensively, the Red surpassed the single-season team steals record of 223 (set by the 1992-93 squad) with eight in the first half.

“We felt good going into the half; we wanted to win badly,” said Stephenson. “We’ve wanted to beat Yale more than any other team this season. We have an intense personal rivalry with them.”

The second half was a different story, however. The Red shooters went cold, missing seven of their last eight shots. Combined with Cornell’s perennial achilles-heel — poor free throw shooting — the offensive drought was too much for the Red to overcome in such a close game. Yale center Dominick Martin tipped in a Yale miss with 20 seconds left to seal the Bulldog victory.

“It was a matter of us not stepping up and hitting shots,” said Barnes. “I think we came out with a lot more energy than Yale; maybe we were overhyped. When we had open looks, we didn’t hit the shots.”

The template proved similar in Saturday’s game against Brown. The Red shot only 10 of 30 in the first half, yet was as close as four until the Bears pulled ahead by nine at halftime.

Saturday’s second half was reminiscent of Friday’s first, as Cornell was able to pull even with its opponent and trade baskets down the stretch. Stephenson was again a force inside for the Red, following up a 10-point performance against Yale with a career-high 19.

“I felt comfortable under the basket and was more poised than I have been earlier in the season,” said Stephenson. “But there were still things I felt I could have done to put us over the top.”

With Brown leading by three and 3:45 left on the clock, the Red was poised to end the season victorious and send Barnes off with a win. Unfortunately for Cornell, Brown hit nearly all of its free throws and the Red was unable to hold on defensively.

“It’s frustrating not getting stops,” said Stephenson. “We’ve worked hard on improving our defense this season. When you put the ball in the basket on one end, you have to keep the other team from doing the same on the other end.”

Barnes’s 34 points were not enough to lead his team to victory this weekend, but even though the dream of an Ivy League title will remain unfulfilled, Barnes left Newman Arena on Saturday night with no regrets.

“I’ve been through a lot, and I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “I’d love to have won a championship this year, but that’s not always how it goes. I definitely think I was able to make a mark here.”

Archived article by Per Ostman