February 9, 2005

Men's Hoops Eyes League Title

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The last time an Ivy League squad other than Penn or Princeton made the NCAA Tournament was 1987-88 season. What team was that, you ask? Cornell — when the Red dropped a 90-50 decision to Arizona in the first round.

Despite the fact that the Red is still looking up at Penn in the Ivy League standings, last weekend’s heart-stopping wins over Brown and Yale have the team right back in the thick of things in the Ivy League. And although a possible trip to the NCAA Tournament is still a long ways away, the importance of it would be huge for this year’s seniors.

“[Making the tournament] would be extremely important to where we want the program to go,” said senior Cody Toppert. “It’s a prospect that will really help validate what we seniors are trying to accomplish.”

Yet all the excitement, according to Toppert, must be kept in check because last season, the Red found itself at 5-0 going into a weekend at Newman Arena against both the Tigers and Quakers — and was swept.

“It was really a ‘holy cow’ feeling [at the beginning of] last season,” Toppert said. “We were trying to rush through the season. This year the losses really grounded us.”

Despite a strong focus on the present, the Red will need to conquer the demons of its past to succeed this weekend. A pair of wins would snap two long standing streaks — not having won at Princeton’s Jadwin Gymnasium or The Palestra at Penn since the 1984-85 and 1988-89 seasons, respectively.

This year, the Red believes it might have an advantage — fresh legs. With back-to-back games most weekends during the Ivy season, a team with a deep bench will most likely be more well-rested for the second game. The Red has just that — and according to Toppert, a whole lot more.

“All of our players are well-rounded in all facets of the game,” Toppert said. “We all know everyone on the court can make plays, and it’s fun to play basketball that way.”

The Red’s deep bench has proven to be crucial since the beginning of the team’s Ivy League slate. In six games against Ivy opponents, the Red’s bench players have outscored their counterparts in every game, and have accounted for an average of 28.6 points in the last nine games. Consequently, the Red is 6-3 in its past nine games, and 4-2 in the Ivy League. The Red’s depth was most evident in its games against Brown and Yale last weekend. Against Brown, Toppert, who came off the bench, netted two free throws with just 3.5 seconds left on the clock to give the Red victory, while a complete team effort was needed in a double-overtime victory over Yale on Saturday.

Fresh legs have also indirectly led to better free-throw shooting — something crucial in the Red’s win over Brown. As a team, the Red shoots just under 75 percent from the charity stripe, while junior Lenny Collins and Ryan Rourke, along with Toppert, all shoot at least 83 percent, including Toppert’s 93 percent success rate.

A deep bench also allows for a less reliance on a single player. Ten players average at least 9.8 minutes per game, and three average in double figures — Collins, Toppert, and senior Eric Taylor.

“If one guy has off night, we know that another guy can pick it up,” Toppert said.

Some of those guys have been Rourke, who tallied team-highs of 22 points and 12 rebounds against Yale, and sophomore Graham Dow, who has a team-leading 29 steals, despite starting just three games this season. Other key contributors off the bench include freshman Will Scott, who has hit from a team-high 46 percent from beyond the arc, and sophomore Andrew Naeve, who leads the team in blocked shots, with 21.

Archived article by hris Mascaro
Sun Assistant Sports Editor