Duke may be No. 1 in the polls, but last night, for at least two hours, the Cornell men’s basketball team had the best record in the nation. With four players scoring in double digits, the Red (1-0), downed St. Francis (Pa.) (0-1), 75-54, in the college basketball’s first game of the 2005-2006 season.
Playing in the opening round of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic Benefiting the Coaches vs. Cancer held in Syracuse, N.Y., the victory marks the first win ever for Cornell in 15 tries at the Carrier Dome.
Continuing his success from last season, senior tri-captain Ryan Rourke had a stellar game as the Red’s leading scorer, with 25 points on the night – two shy of his career-high. Rourke made 7-of-10 from the field, including two from behind the arc, grabbed nine rebounds and missed only one of his 10 foul shots.
“[Rourke] had a very good game. He defended well, he rebounded well and he obviously scored well,” said Cornell head coach Steve Donahue. “I think you’re seeing a guy who’s just a really good basketball player, really trying to be aggressive with everything he does.”
St. Francis jumped out to an early 8-2 lead thanks to a four-point play from guard Sam Fahra. The lead turned out to be short-lived, as Cornell responded with a 24-6 run that put the Red comfortably back on top.
While Cornell dominated play for most of the first 20 minutes, the Red Flash took back the momentum in the closing minutes of the first half.
Forcing four consecutive turnovers from Cornell’s offense, St. Francis cut the Red’s lead to six, making the score at halftime, 32-26.
“I was extremely disappointed. We go up 14 with 4:21 [left in the first half] and then turn the ball over four consecutive times,” Donahue said. “It was just really frustrating because when our defense was set, I thought we played very good half court defense.”
Continuing its push, the Red Flash came out of the half with a couple of 3s and tied the game at 34-34. Donahue, deciding he’d seen enough, called a timeout to rally his team.
“We called a timeout and said, ‘Listen, we’ve got to get back, be solid on the defensive end, get good looks at the basket, but have great floor balance and really get back and get our defense set,'” he said.
The Red stepped up to Donahue’s challenge, raising its game at both ends of the court, but St. Francis refused to go away.
Freshman guard Adam Gore broke the 34-34 tie with a clutch 3-pointer to put the Red back ahead. Playing 34 minutes as Cornell’s starting point guard last night, Gore turned in a solid performance with 11 points and no turnovers.
“Adam doesn’t play like a freshman,” Donahue said. “He’s a very level-headed, tough-minded kid. He went out there and he played for him, a very solid game.”
Cornell finally began to pull away with nine minutes left in the game. Gore hit his second trey of the night, and junior Jason Hartford knocked down a midrange jumper to push Cornell ahead 53-43.
Hartford, a transfer also playing in his first game for the Red, had a huge night, turning in a double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds,) coming of the bench.
“Jason Hartford is a skilled kid that plays very hard,” Donahue said. “He’s going to be a difficult match-up for a lot of teams because of his ability to step away from the basket, yet be physical at the same time.”
Cornell closed out the game in strong fashion, pushing its lead at one point, to 23. Consistent foul shooting – the team averaged 87.5-percent from the line – and an effective man-to-man defense helped seal the game for the Red.
“We’re a very good foul shooting team. Everybody on this team can shoot them,” Donahue said. “When we’re up by a few points and things our going our way, I feel confident that if we just run a good offense and get to the foul line, we’re going to take care of things.”
Cornell will face No. 16 Syracuse, which joined the Red at 1-0 with a 68-37 win over Bethune-Cookman last night. Game time is set for 8 p.m. tonight in the Carrier Dome.
Archived article by Paul Testa
Sun Staff Writer