January 22, 2007

Men’s Cagers Escape NYC on Top

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With five seconds remaining in Saturday’s game, freshman Louis Dale’s first free throw attempt caressed every part of the rim before falling in. Dale hit the following attempt, giving Cornell (9-8, 2-1 Ivy) a three-point lead it would never relinquish in a 49-45 win over Columbia (10-7, 1-2).

“I was nervous when it was sitting on the rim,” Dale said. “At that point, you just have to hope it goes in.”

Senior Andrew Naeve led the Red with 15 points, while Dale and freshman Ryan Wittman contributed 13 and nine points, respectively.

From the outset, the game was a see-saw battle as the Red jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead, followed by a 6-0 run from the Lions. Senior Ugo Ihekweazu fueled Cornell’s hot start with his only three points of the game, while freshman Patrick Foley scored Columbia’s first six points. A layup by Naeve stopped the Columbia spurt. Over the next three minutes the Lions built up the biggest lead of the game — a 16-10 advantage — midway through the first half.

But a 3-pointer and fast break layup from Wittman kept the Red within striking distance. Consecutive baskets from freshman Alex Tyler closed the gap to 18-16 with eight minutes to play in the half. Columbia was able to build the lead to 23-18 with three minutes remaining as the Red went cold from the field and committed four turnovers. As it did throughout the contest, Cornell battled back and eventually knotted the game at 25 on a driving layup from Wittman. Yet, the Lions would head to the locker room with the lead as junior Brett Loscalzo nailed a 3 at the buzzer.

In the proceeding half, the Red tightened the clamps defensively and held the Lions to only 30 percent shooting from the floor — fueled by Naeve’s tough inside presence.

“[Columbia] really wasn’t scoring inside and [Naeve] had a lot to do with that,” Cornell head coach Steve Donahue said. “Overall though it was a great team effort to make it difficult for [Columbia’s] big men to move inside.”

Despite increased defensive pressure, Columbia opened the second half scoring behind a 3-pointer from junior John Baumann. With the lead stretched to 31-25, Naeve made his presence known on the offensive end as the senior scored Cornell’s next seven points to give the Red a 32-31 lead three minutes into the half.

“[Naeve] made hustle plays and played a terrific offensive game to go along with his defense,” Donahue said.

Neither team could gain a decisive advantage as the next 13 minutes featured five lead changes — the last coming with four minutes to play as a layup by Dale put the Red in front 45-43. Dale’s play in the final nine minutes, combined with a stifling Cornell defense that allowed only two points, propelled the Red to victory as the speedy freshman scored the team’s final nine points — including the game-clinching free throws.

“[Dale] is our best player at getting things done when nothing is happening offensively,” Donahue said. “Just give him the ball and he makes good plays.”

“It was great for our confidence to come out with a win,” Naeve said. “Now we just need to get ready for next week.”