Three years ago against Brown, then-freshman Cody Toppert had a chance to tie the Bears in the waning seconds of the game. Unfortunately for the Red, his three-pointer was off, and Brown escaped Newman Arena with a win. Last year against Brown, Toppert’s three also missed the mark in the last few seconds. This past Friday night, Toppert again found himself in a similar situation — the ball in his hands, and a chance to tie Brown. Except this time, he was at the foul line.
A career 85 percent free-throw shooter, Toppert nailed two shots from the charity stripe with 3.5 seconds remaining in regulation to give the Red (8-10, 3-2 Ivy) a 76-75 victory over Brown (8-9, 1-2 Ivy).
“Every game is so important in this league because there’s no league tournament,” said Cornell head coach Steve Donahue. “To stay in it, you have to win, especially at home. I thought we played a spirited game.”
Coming off a split at home last weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth, the Red needed a strong showing against Brown to keep pace in the Ivy standings. The Bears presented a formidable challenge, as they featured the league’s leading scorer and reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, Jason Forte. Last weekend, Brown knocked off 2004 Ivy champion Princeton on the road, behind a 17-point effort from Forte.
On Friday, things started out slow for Cornell, as the Red shot 2-for-13 in the first nine minutes of the game. With 8:05 to play in the half, the Red was staring at a 12-point deficit, as Brown led 20-8.
“In the first six to eight minutes, we were tentative on offense,” said junior Lenny Collins. “Coach got into us during a timeout, and we started getting the ball to the basket. Our intensity began on the defensive end, and spilled over to the offense.”
The Red offense came to life, as it rattled off a 13-0 run over the next four minutes to take a 21-20 lead. Sophomore Graham Dow, who returned to the game after taking a shot to the face, sparked the Red during the run by scoring on consecutive layups off of picks from the top of the key.
“The steady play of Graham Dow is why we’re a different team this year,” Donahue said. “The whole team is feeding off him. He can defensively control a game, and he makes us a better team.”
The teams went into the locker room knotted at 27, after Toppert tied the game with a three-pointer with 22 seconds left in the first half. Brown grabbed an early lead after the break, but the Red answered by holding on to a lead for nearly 10 minutes. Forte, who netted eights points in the first half, exploded for 28 second-half points, setting a Newman Arena record with 36 on the evening. He made a huge impact at the free-throw line, connecting on 11 of 13 shots from the line in the second half.
“Forte is a great player. We’ve been going at it ever since we entered the league,” said Toppert. “He did a great job getting to the foul line. It was back and forth during the second half, and it was important for us to answer him.”
Toppert nailed a three with 1:44 remaining to give the Red a 74-71 edge, but Brown responded with two layups to grab a one-point lead with 11 seconds remaining. On the ensuing in-bounds, Toppert received a full-court pass on the left side, and drove in for the layup, but missed. Sophomore Andrew Naeve grabbed the rebound and put up another layup, but he couldn’t connect either. Naeve then grabbed the rebound from his own shot, and kicked it out to Toppert, who was fouled. After Toppert made his free throws, Brown had one last chance with 3.5 seconds left, drawing up a play that put the ball in Forte’s hands at half-court. He dribbled up the right side, but Collins and Dow defended him well, causing Forte to slip and lose possession as time ran out.
“I was thinking toward the end that the team with the ball last may win the game,” Donahue said. “We did a good job not fouling at the end. It’s nerve-racking as a coach to watch.”
Toppert finished the game with a team-high 22 points, 19 of those coming in the second half. Collins had a solid night as well, chipping in 20, while senior captain Eric Taylor put up 10 points. Forte was the only Brown player in double-figures on the evening.
Archived article by Jonathan Auerbach
Sun Staff Writer