January 30, 2006

M. Hoops Tops Columbia

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NEW YORK – Wearing sophomore guard Khaliq Gant’s No. 21 embroidered over their hearts, the Cornell men’s basketball team handed Columbia an 81-59 defeat Saturday afternoon at Levien Gymnasium in New York City, dominating the perimeter while neutralizing the Lion’s inside game.

The game was the first contest for the Red after an emotional week in which Gant suffered a serious neck injury during practice last Tuesday and was airlifted to the Arnot Ogden Medical Center in Elmira, N.Y. The win avenged a heartbreaking, 58-57, loss to the Lions in the final seconds of last Saturday’s game at Newman Arena.

“We were able to go down and see Khaliq and talk to him and see how he was doing. He talked to us and said he wanted us to play and I don’t think there’s anything more that he wanted to hear today than a Cornell win,” said junior guard Graham Dow. “We just wanted to go out and play as hard as we possibly could in his honor, and that’s what the number is there for – you know, close to our hearts.”

Cornell got career-high scoring performances in the victory from its duo of guards, junior Graham Dow and freshman Adam Gore. Gore had a career-high 28 points on the night, going 5-of-8 from behind the arc while committing only one turnover in 36 minutes of play. Dow had 19 points on the night, and recorded a game-leading five assists and four steals.Cornell also got ten points from senior captains Lenny Collins and Ryan Rourke.

John Bauman led the Lions in scoring with 16 points, while Brett Loscalzo had 11 points and Ben Nwachukwu scored 10.

Erasing any memories of last week’s defeat, Cornell opened the game with a 10-0 run, holding Columbia scoreless for the first four minutes of the contest.

Dow put the Red on the board with a strong drive to the basket followed by a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession. Dow had a career-high 19 points on the game along with five assists and a game-leading four steals.

Regaining their footing, the Lions roared back in the last seven minutes of the first half. Led by the strong post play of Baumann and center Ben Nwachukwu, Columbia tied the game at 31-31 with 3:37 left in the half.

A layup less than a minute later by forward Jason Miller put the Lions ahead, 33-31, and a pair of clutch free throws from Nwachukwu gave Columbia a 37-34 lead after 20 minutes of play.

“We kind of neutralized them towards the end of the half,” said Columbia head coach Joe Jones. “We got seven stops in a row, but I thought overall they outplayed us in the first half as well.”

“I thought at half time it was a good basketball game,” said Cornell head coach Steve Donahue. “I thought [Columbia was] really coming down looking for transition stuff, and if they didn’t get it, they really executed and made us guard.”

Although shooting a solid 56.5 percent from the floor in the first half, Cornell shot only 43 percent from the charity stripe in the first half, well below its season average of 69.6 percent. The Lions, on the other hand, converted 9-of-11 free throws in the first half.

Cornell quickly brought the game back to a tie at 37-37, as Gore sank a long trey two minutes into the second half.

On the following play Dow made a steal from Columbia’s Mack Montgomery and converted the fast break into an easy layup to put the Red back ahead.

With the Lions staying consistently within four points of the Red and Columbia’s raucous fans pleading with the Red to: “Pass it to the bellhop – No, the other bellhop!” Gore decided to take things into his own hands.

After sinking two consecutive 3s to put the Red up, 52-44, Gore took a hard charge from the surprised Bauman to give Cornell back the ball. On the ensuing possession, the Lions’ Brett Loscalzo fouled Gore on a 3-point attempt. Gore gave the Red a comfortable 10-point lead after converting all three free throws, an advantage it would push to 22 by the end of the game.

“We did a poor job with Gore, but he was terrific,” Jones said. “I thought he also made some tough shots. There were shots that he made that not too many people in our league are going to be able to make on a consistent basis.”

“Obviously Adam is a special player for us,” Donahue said. “Adam knows what his role is on this team. He’s got to go out and look for his shot and be aggressive on this team and I think he did that throughout the whole game this time.”

Cornell limited Columbia to only 22 points in the second half. Making only 8-of-24 from the floor, the Lions were 0-for-8 from behind the 3-point line in the second half.

The cagers were also successful in shutting down Columbia’s inside game, holding Nwachukwu, who had 10 points in the first half, scoreless in the final 20 minutes.

Cornell forced 16 turnovers from Columbia while committing only 11 of its own and recording 15 assists on the game. Both teams grabbed 31 total rebounds on the day.

“If you look at the first eight minutes and the last 20 minutes of the game