February 6, 2006

Cagers Earn Sweep, Keep Title Hopes Alive

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With 2.4 seconds left on the clock, junior forward Jason Hartford grabbed the rebound from senior Lenny Collins’ 3-point attempt, put up a shot, and watched as the ball hovered on the edge of the rim before falling into the basket to seal a 79-77 win over Harvard.

The victory against the Crimson (12-7, 4-2 Ivy), completed a weekend sweep for the Red (9-11, 4-2 Ivy), who defeated Dartmouth (3-16, 1-5 Ivy), 63-47, on Friday. The sweep extends the cagers’ season-high winning streak to three games, and keeps Cornell’s hopes for an Ivy League title alive. The Red is now tied with the Crimson for third in the league behind first-place Penn (12-6, 4-0 Ivy) and second-place Princeton (5-12, 3-1 Ivy).

Cornell began its homestand Friday night against a young Dartmouth team struggling to find its character in its second year with head coach Terry Dunn.

The Red opened the scoring with a familiar sight for Cornell fans, a 3-pointer from freshman guard Adam Gore. To the dismay of his Dartmouth defenders, Gore would drop in two more treys in the first three minutes of the game to give Cornell an early 11-3 lead.

“It seems like the more hands [in my face] the better chance I have of making it,” Gore said. “I just came out feeling pretty good shooting the ball.”

Eighteen of Gore’s game-high 20 points came from beyond the arc. Junior guard Graham Dow was next in scoring for the Red with 12 points and four steals on the game. Junior center Andrew Naeve had 11 rebounds for Cornell.

The Red limited Dartmouth’s starting five to just 18 points collectively. Calvin Arnold was the only player for the Green in double digits with 11 points on the game.

Another 3-pointer, this time from Collins with 9:11 left in the first half put Cornell ahead 23-11. Cornell’s lead would remain in double digits for the rest of the game, stretching to as much as 18 in the second half.

“[Dartmouth’s] record doesn’t reflect how good of a basketball team they are,” Collins said. “In this league any team has a chance to come out and beat you any night.”

Cornell proved that to be true the next night with its down-to-the-wire victory over the Crimson, who were tied for second place in the league coming into the weekend. The two squads played a physical game, wracking up 47 personal fouls between the two benches.

All of Cornell’s starters made it into double digits in the points column. Collins led the charge with 20 points -including eight points in the final three minutes of the game – followed by Gore with 15 points, and Dow with 13 points. Naeve recorded his second career double-double with a game-high 12 rebounds and 10 points. Senior tri-captain Ryan Rourke also had 10 points. The Red, which led the Ivy League in free-throw percentage throughout last season, struggled at the charity stripe, connecting on just 23-of-36 free throws.

Harvard’s leading scorer, Matt Stehle, proved to be a dominant force, pouring in 27 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Seven-foot center Brian Cusworth provided the Crimson with a one-two punch inside, finishing with 11 points and seven rebounds. Jim Goffredo led the perimeter attack with 20 points, while guard Michael Beal scored 10 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. The Crimson connected on 27-of-29 free throws, including a perfect 12-for-12 in the second half.

After Harvard jumped out to an early five-point lead, Rourke put the Red back ahead, 14-13, with two lay-ups and a pair of free throws in three consecutive possessions.

The teams settled into a back-and-forth battle, as the lead changed hands five times in the first half. Cornell came out on top at the break, the break, leading the Crimson 37-34.

A trey from Gore opened the scoring in the second half, and was followed by a jumper from Collins and slashng lay-up from Dow put Cornell on top, 44-36, for its biggest lead of the game.

The Red’s good fortune did not last long, however, as Harvard’s big men carried their team back into the game. Grabbing the offensive rebound from a Goffredo miss, Stehle’s quick put-back began a Crimson push that would put them up by seven with a little over five minutes left in the game.

“[Stehle and Cusworth] are two of the best post players in our league,” Collins said. “We knew it was going to be a battle coming in.”

The momentum suddenly shifted in Cornell’s favor with three minutes left on the clock, as Stehle, Cusworth, and point guard Drew Houseman all fouled out in a span of 55 seconds.

“That was the key to the game,” Hartford said. “That was the momentum shift. It was time to put the dagger in them.”

Clutch foul shooting from Rourke, Dow and Naeve brought Cornell within one, 70-69, with 2:46 to play.

“It’s been the one common denominator in our two Ivy League losses – our opponents getting to the line more than we did,” Harvard head coach Frank Sullivan said. “I thought we did a good job ourselves getting there. It’s just Cornell was there significantly more.”

With Harvard reeling from the loss of its dominant frontcourt, the 3,600-plus fans at Newman Arena came to life with deafening chants for defense. Yet Goffredo silenced the crowd on the next possession, draining a 3 from the left side of the arc, making the score 73-69.

Staring at a possible defeat, Collins decided to take the fate of the Red into his own hands.

“As a captain I feel like it’s my responsibility down the stretch to give us that push over the edge to help us win,” Collins said. “I felt like if we were going to win or lose it was going to be on our shoulders.”

After Houseman used his fifth foul on Collins, he drained both of his free throws, then hit back-to-back 3s to tie the game at 77-77 with only 37 seconds to play.

Desperately needing one more stop to send the game to overtime, Cornell instead got a steal, as Dow broke up a handoff between Beal and Goffredo to give Cornell the ball with 13 seconds to play. After a Cornell timeout, Dow drove to the basket on the Red’s final possession and kicked the ball out to Collins on the baseline for a 3-point attempt. Collins’ shot clanked off the rim but fell into the waiting hands of Hartford for the winning bucket.

Harvard’s last-second half-court shot fell well short, prompting a celebration by the Cornell players, who are still reeling from the loss of sophomore guard Khaliq Gant to a neck injury two weeks ago.

“Definitely we’re playing for Khaliq,” Collins said. “He’s down [in Atlanta] working hard to rehab and the way we look at is if us playing hard, winning some games, is gong to uplift his spirits we’re going to do all we can to win for him.”

Archived article by Paul Testa
Sun Staff Writer