When Ithaca College visits the East Hill to play the men’s basketball team, the game is not supposed to be close. In the three previous meetings between the neighbors, the Red has won by an average margin of 27 points. In last year’s 69-37 Red victory, Ithaca was never really a participant, as Cornell opened the game on a 15-0 run and never allowed the Bombers to get close, leading by as many as 36 points at times.
Last night, however, was a slightly different story. Through the second half, the game was never in doubt, but Cornell was never able to quite build the lead that has been so characteristic of the rivalry. The Red’s inability to put the game away nearly came back to bite it, as Ithaca went on an 11-0 run over the last 1:07 of the game, and Cornell escaped with a 69-67 win. Bombers freshman guard Brian Joe keyed the late rally, scoring five of the 11 points.
“I thought Ithaca College had a terrific game plan,” said Cornell head coach Steve Donahue. “They played tough, hard-nosed on both ends of the floor. I was disappointed in our guys in some ways. Obviously, we’ve got a ways to go.”
The first half certainly did not look like a matchup between a Division I team and a Division III team. Though Cornell did not play badly, the Bombers completely out-hustled the Red and played strong fundamentally. Ithaca shot 59.1 percent from the field in the first half, led by Ian Houck, who led all scorers with 11 points at halftime.
Cornell continued to play catch up for much of the next six minutes, though it did remain within comfortable striking distance. Lenny Collins tied the game at 20-20 for the Red with 5:07 left before the break.
After Ithaca briefly went ahead again, Cornell used an 8-0 run over the next minute to go into a media timeout with 3:55 left leading, 30-25. However, when it appeared that the Red had finally taken control of the game, Ithaca came out of time out blazing. First, Jonathan Whetstone converted on one of two foul shots to bring team within four, then Jim Bellis stole the ball at midcourt and went on fast break for a score. Then, after regaining possession in Cornell’s offensive end, Roth’s 3-pointer from above the key takes fortunate bounce to give Ithaca a 31-20 lead with 1:55 left to play in the half.
The teams exchanged buckets in the remaining moments of the half. Cornell had possession of the ball for the last 20 seconds of the half, but senior Cody Toppert’s 3-point attempt and freshman Will Scott’s desperation shot at buzzer were both no good, teams go into halftime tied, 35-35.
The start of the second half was much the same story, as the teams continued to exchange baskets for the first eight minutes of play. Then, Cornell began to put a little distance between itself and its cross-town rival. Tight defense and several opportunistic baskets allowed the Red to extend its shaky 41-40 lead to a more comfortable seven point margin with around nine minutes remaining in the contest.
“We’ve got young guys and they have small bodies, and it’s a hard matchup most of the night for a lot of the guys,” Donahue said. “They had a terrific game plan and they executed it.”
Cornell extended its lead to double digits for the first time with 6:15 left, when Collins hit a 3.
But Ithaca again came back. With 4:15 left, Joe hit a 3-pointer to cut the Cornell lead to five points, at 54-49. Rourke converted on two foul shots to stop the bleeding there, ending a Cornell scoring drought that lasted 2:17, and put the Red back up by seven, 56-49.
Senior captain Eric Taylor led all scorers with 20, while Collins chipped in 15 for Cornell. For the Bombers, Whetstone finished with 15, while Houck and Joe each poured in 14. Jesse Roth had 13 points. Toppert, who has dominated Ithaca in his career, was held to just six points on two-of-five shooting.
“I think Jesse Roth did a tremendous defensive job on Cody Toppert,” Ithaca head coach Jim Mullins said. “That’s as good a defense as I’ve seen played in 27 years of coaching, it was tremendous.”
Cornell won the rebounding battle, 35-17, including 17-7 on the offensive glass. However, the Red also turned the ball over 20 times in the game.
“The positive is we played a lot of young guys who will help us down the road,” Donahue said. “Wednesday night will be a completely different game, as will Saturday. That team played us as hard as anybody has in a long time in a lot of ways, so I give them credit, and obviously, we need a lot of work.”
Archived article by Owen Bochner
Sun Sports Editor