The men’s basketball team will play its first game in the William and Mary Tip-Off Classic against an opponent it hasn’t faced in 16 years as Cornell takes on VMI tonight in the Kaplan Arena in Williamsburg, Va.
Head coach Steve Donahue is anxious to get his team back on the court after dropping two losses that were decided by a total of three points, with the most recent defeat coming against Hartford on Tuesday night in Newman Arena by a score of 63-61.
“In some ways it’s a good thing to come back as quickly as you can,” Donahue said. “I think it’s going to be a wild game [against VMI].”
While the Keydets are looking to snap a two-game skid of their own, they have been putting up 101.4 points per game. Due to the long road trip to Virginia, Cornell (3-3) had just one practice in which to recover from its loss against Hartford and get ready to face VMI (3-5).
“We don’t have a lot of preparation,” Donahue said. “And then you’re playing against a team that really scrambles around and forces the tempo of the game.”
Despite the daunting challenge of slowing the offensive production of the Keydets and dealing with the yet another foe that likes to turn up the defensive pressure, Donahue is confident in the abilities of his squad.
“We didn’t do a good job against the pressure [of Hartford’s defense], so it will give us a chance to get right back in there and do the things that we need to do to win a game,” he said. “I feel comfortable that we’ll be able to understand what [VMI is] trying to do and get in an attacking mode.”
VMI has a full lineup of players who are putting up double-digit numbers each game, led by junior forward Reggie Williams with 25.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Travis Holmes gives the Keydets a potent second option with a 19.1 scoring average. However, opponents have been able to average a 54 percent success rate from the floor, a weakness that Cornell rookies Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale and sophomore Brian Kreefer will look to exploit on the attack.
“I think we have players that pass well and see the floor. [They] think pass first and know how to hit open shots,” Donahue said.
Wittman has paced the Red with 16.7 points per game on the season, with Dale and Kreefer keeping defenses honest by adding 13.0 and 12.7 tallies per contest, respectively.
The host team will face Jacksonville State in the second game tonight. William and Mary is looking to rebound from a 79-63 loss at the hands of Navy on Tuesday night, while Jacksonville State suffered a 100-69 defeat against UMass last Saturday.
The Tribe is led by a trifecta of double-digit scorers, topped by junior forward Laimis Kisielius, who has been scoring at a 13.0 points per game clip. The supporting cast consists of senior guard Adam Payton, with 10.3 points and a team-high 4.8 boards per game, and freshman guard David Schneider, who has been adding 10.0 tallies per contest.
The other possible opponent for Cornell’s game tomorrow is Jacksonville State. While he doesn’t appear exceptional on paper, listed at 6-5 and 215, senior forward Courtney Bradley and his 22.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game this season have set the pace for the Gamecocks. Junior forward Dorien Brown has provided a second option with 16.3 tallies per game to go with 7.3 rebounds.
With a full slate on deck for the weekend, Donahue feels his team has enough experience on this young season to put forth a complete effort in a two-day stint that will offer a preview of the scheduling challenges the Red will face during the Ivy League season.
“I just think that now we’re more aware and appreciative that the game’s not over til it’s over,” Donahue said. “We’ve got to go 40 minutes and complete the task.”