PRINCETON, N.J. — A 20-0 second-half run paved the way for Cornell’s 66-58 win over Princeton Friday night and helped the Red shed the weight of a 19-game road losing streak at Jadwin Gymnasium. The victory marked the first time since the 1984-85 season that Cornell has beaten the orange and black on its home court and the first time since 2001 that the team has beaten the Tigers. With the win, Cornell moved into second place in the Ancient Eight and improved its record to 10-10 overall (5-2 Ivy), while the Tigers slid to 10-10 (1-5 Ivy).
“It really feels good,” said senior Cody Toppert. “Me and [senior captain] Eric Taylor have been through a lot. We want to leave a mark on the program.”
Four Cornell players scored double figures in the effort, including Taylor, juniors Lenny Collins and Ryan Rourke, and Toppert. Taylor led the charge with 17 points, while Collins and Rourke each had 13, and Toppert added 12. Sophomore Graham Dow also continued to lead the stalwart Red defense with four steals and added a game-high seven assists offensively.
The Tigers’ Judson Wallace led his squad in scoring with 17 points, and Scott Greenman went 5-for-6 for 13 points in the contest. Luke Owings also had 10 points for the orange and black — all of which came in the first half. The Tigers’ second-leading scorer on the year, Will Venable, put up only six points on the evening but had a team-high six assists.
“I just think that there’s a transition to be made. [Former Princeton head coach] John Thompson and [current head coach] Joe Scott are different. Joe’s asking a lot of different things from these kids and right now, they’re not finding who they are,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “They’re good players. They could win the next eight. They’re a good basketball team, but right now they’re struggling to find themselves.”
Down 37-28 after the half, the Red returned to the court and began its turnaround. With Cornell down, 41-38, Dow stole the ball and dished to Toppert, who layed it in for two points to bring the Red within one. Toppert then had a game-changing steal, which led to a Collins three-pointer, and Cornell went up for the first time in the evening, 43-41.
In the next 9:08, Cornell held Princeton scoreless and added an additional 10 points to gain a 53-41 lead with 7:47 left to play.
“Being down nine at halftime, we were doing what we wanted to do. Defensively, we were doing the right thing, but we were just not challenging their shots. We turned it up with the press,” Donahue said. “That made us challenge shots. The only had two threes in the second half.”
“Coach [Donahue] told us to play with more energy,” Toppert said. “We went to our press. We brought it with some energy, and it got us going on the defensive end and the offensive end.”
By the two-minute mark, Princeton had cut the lead to four points, with the Red up, 60-56, but a late push by the Tigers failed to overcome the deficit, and Toppert combined with Rourke to go 5-for-6 from the line to seal the Red’s victory.
That outcome seemed unlikely, however, after the Red’s fist-half performance and the Tiger’s marksman-like 3-point shooting put Cornell in a hole. Princeton shot 67 percent in the first half, including 8 3-pointers.
Despite jumping to an early 6-3 lead with the help of Taylor — who put up two baskets in the paint and assisted to Collins, who was cutting in on a drive — Cornell soon found itself down, 16-10, midway through the half. Wallace continued his hot streak, going 3-for-3 beyond the arc, and the Tigers went 14-of-21 overall en route to their halftime advantage.
“I thought we were doing everything right, but they didn’t miss,” Donahue said.
In the end, though, Cornell’s defense proved too strong for Princeton. The Red caused 19 turnovers which led to 25 points, while Princeton managed only six field goals off 10 takeaways.
“It’s been a long road for coach Donahue and myself,” Taylor said. “My first year, we won five games, two league games. Right now we’re playing the best basketball I’ve seen since I came to Cornell. We feel confident we can play with anybody in the league.”
Archived article by Everett Hullverson
Sun Assistant Sports Editor