All eyes will be on Cornell tonight as the men’s basketball team plays the first college game of the 2005-06 season in the nation against St. Francis (Pa.) at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. The Red will open its season more than a week earlier than any other year in order to participate in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic Benefiting the Coaches vs. Cancer. Although this means Cornell has had 13 less practices than usual to prepare for the season opener, head coach Steve Donahue is not worried.
“I always thought that our preseason was too long,” he said. – [The team] is excited, they’ve been excited thinking all we have to do is work for three weeks and we get our first chance.”
That chance will come on national television against a St. Francis team that was 15-13 (10-8 Northeast) last season, good for fourth place in the its league, but lost three of its top-4 scorers – including Darshan Luckey, who averaged 21.5 points per game and entered the NBA Draft after the 2004-05 campaign. However, Donahue still sees plenty of potential threats in the Red Flash’s lineup.
“They’re just going to be different, they’re going to be smaller and quicker,” he said. “That for us is an adjustment because we’re not small and quick, we’re kind of big and we don’t have great athleticism, necessarily. I think overcoming those things, watching the speed of the game – especially transition defense – is something we talked about. [And] getting out on their 3-point shooters, because I think that’s a strength of their team.”
The Red last faced St. Francis on Jan. 3, 2004, with Cornell earning a 70-62 victory in Newman Arena. On paper, the teams’ statistics are nearly mirror images, with the 2004-05 edition of the Red Flash holding a slight advantage in scoring average over last year’s Cornell squad.
“I think at this point of the season you don’t know what your strengths and weakness are, necessarily,” Donahue said. “I think it’s the team that goes out and plays well wherever the game’s at. I like that it’s at a neutral court.”
While it is a neutral court, the Red owns at least one mark in Carrier Dome history. On Dec. 20, 2004, Cornell connected on 15 3-pointers in a 82-69 loss, a school and venue record. However, the Red will be without Cody Toppert ’05, who had seven treys in that game. This year, Cornell will look to senior tri-captain Lenny Collins, last season’s leading scorer with 13.3 points per game. Collins also averaged 4.9 rebounds per game a year ago and led the team with 66 assists. His classmates and co-captains, forward Ryan Rourke and guard David Lisle, are also expected to start tonight. Rounding out the lineup will be junior center Andrew Naeve and freshman point guard Adam Gore. Gore will be taking over the starting sport for junior Graham Dow, who is not yet fully recovered from an injury suffered last season but is expected to come off the bench.
“Most of the guys have played St. Francis and played similar teams to them,” Donahue said. “I think the issue is that they have good guards, in particular they have one big kid that can shoot the ball. How do we play on defense – we’ve got to get better. We worked on three weeks of defense, [and] where we’re at … that’s going to determine the outcome of the game.”
The Red Flash is led by point guard Garrett Fahra, who averaged 5.9 points and 6.9 assists per game last year. Rahsaan Benton is St. Francis’ top returning scorer after averaging 11.4 points per game last year.
Syracuse and Bethune-Cookman will face off in the second game of the night, and the Orange will host the second round of the regional qualifier on Wednesday to determine which team will travel to Madison Square Garden next weekend for the Coaches vs. Classic semifinals and finals.
Archived article by Olivia Dwyer
Sun Assistant Sports Editor