The last time Cornell and Yale met, the two teams battled into double overtime before the Red emerged with an 87-82 victory. The thrilling win gave Cornell (12-13, 7-5 Ivy) a weekend sweep of Brown and the Bulldogs (9-15, 5-6 Ivy) and, more importantly, sparked a streak that has guaranteed the program its first .500 Ivy season in eight years and placed the Red second among the Ancient Eight.
This weekend, Cornell will again face these Ivy opponents in the final weekend of conference play. A win over Yale would give the team a 13-13 overall record and secure it a second-place finish in the league. For seniors Cody Toppert and Eric Taylor, and head coach Steve Donahue, a win would also mark the culmination of a four-year quest for respect.
“Its’ been a great week. Guys have worked hard. We have a lot of respect for both programs,” Donahue said. “The guys are going to play well, so they can be one of the better teams in the league.”
The Red’s strategy for success this weekend will not differ from the formula it has used to win its last three games since dropping the Bulldogs: expert foul shooting, strength off the bench, and a strong mental approach. From the foul line, the Red has shot .747 as a team this year. Junior Ryan Rourke leads the pack with an .863 mark, but Toppert barely trails him at .860. In its comeback win over Princeton Saturday, Cornell shot just 25 percent from the field in the first half, but made 20-of-22 crucial buckets from the charity stripe.
That win against Princeton completed the Red’s first sweep of the Tigers in 20 years, but Cornell realizes that defeating one of the league’s perennial champions does not mean it may beat one of its middlemen with ease. Though neither Yale nor Brown has a stellar record, both teams have shown glimpses of brilliance throughout the season, and both teams have found themselves barely on the losing end of games on more than one occasion.
“I think they’re two teams that have played well in stretches this year. Both have talentented players,” Donahue said. “I think they’re both very dangerous teams.”
Yale, in particular has proven especially potent. Not only did the Bulldogs take the Red into double overtime, they also handed No. 1 Penn its only league loss of the year. Senior Edwin Draughan leads the team with 15.7 points per game, while classmates Dominick Martin and Alex Gamboa trail just behind with 12.2 ppg and 9.9 ppg, respectively. Brown also has the defending Ivy League Player of the Year, Jason Forte, who has led the Bears all season with his strong drives and stealthy defensive play.
While the Red’s opponents may have one, two, or even three key players, Cornell routinely counts on seven or eight men to deliver in games. Taylor and Toppert lead the senior class, while Rourke, Lenny Collins, and David Lisle head the juniors. Sophomores Graham Dow and Andrew Naeve represent the sophomores, and freshman Jason Canady has proven that he has the talent to play with the league’s best.
“Yale is playing three main guys substantial minutes. I think they have a talented group, but, when you play young kids, it’s asking a lot,” Donahue said. “Brown is young as well. Jason[Forte] is a very good player, but no one else is playing substantial minutes. It’s hard to win when you’re playing a lot of younger players.”
Regardless of which players see time this weekend, Cornell’s athletes will face them head on with the same confidence they have demonstrated all season. And, with so much riding on this weekend’s games, the Red has incentive to go all out.
“Sweeping these teams would be great. We’re trying to do as well as we can, finish in second place and have a winning record,” Donahue said. “So its a huge weekend. there’s a lot of work left and we’re looking forward to this.”
Archived article by Everett Hullverson
Sun Assistant Sports Editor