February 2, 2007

M. Cagers Travel for Ivy Road Weekend

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Even though the men’s basketball team has already played nine games away from home this season, head coach Steve Donahue knows that this weekend — when the Red (10-8, 3-1 Ivy) must play its first Ivy League games on the road — will be much different.
“You have to approach this as an 80-minute event,” Donahue said of this weekend’s games against Dartmouth and Harvard. “We talk about it during the week, but at this point we are just focusing on [tonight].”
Donahue will rely on his seniors, who have played plenty of back-to-back Ivy road games in their careers, to help the younger members of the team adjust to the new experience.
“We start three seniors and they have been through this a lot,” Donahue said of seniors Graham Dow, Andrew Naeve, and Ugo Ihekweazu. “I think they help the young guys understand that this is something that is different than they are used to, and different than other college situations.”
[img_assist|nid=21090|title=Monster jam|desc=Senior center Andrew Naeve (42) goes to the rim for a slam dunk in a 56-51 win over Columbia on Jan. 27. Naeve and the rest of the men’s basketball team will look to improve its 3-1 Ivy League record this weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth.|link=none|align=left|width=48|height=100]
Tonight, in a contrast of both colors and styles, the Red will face an undersized but athletic Green (7-10, 2-2) squad that Donahue thinks is playing its best basketball of late. Dartmouth started off the season slowly, losing its first six games without the help of senior Leon Pattman, who suffered an ankle injury. Since his return, Pattman has led the team in both points per game (15.5) and assists per game (2.3). In that time, Dartmouth has gone 7-4, including conference victories over Harvard and Brown.
The Red will employ a concentrated team defense in order to neutralize Pattman’s talents.
“With a guy like Pattman, all five guys on the court are going to have to know where he is at, in addition to knowing where their man is and where the ball is,” Ihekweazu said. “With our man-to-man defense, it’s not 1-on-1, it’s 5-on-1.”
Pattman’s return has also improved the play of his teammates, especially sophomore Alex Barnett, who, at 6-6, is leading the Green in rebounding and averaging 11.5 points per game.
“Since Pattman finally got healthy, it made Dartmouth a different team,” Donahue said. “Alex Barnett has really risen his game to another level and the other kids are really buying into the system that they are using.”
On the back end of the road trip, Cornell will tackle Harvard, a team that, due to Ivy League eligibility rules, will be without its top scorer and rebounder, Brian Cusworth.
Cusworth, having earned his degree, will not play for the Crimson again this season.
“I feel bad for [Brian] as he has been robbed of a chance to finish out his senior season,” Donahue said. “He has done everything that the institution would want, yet he is penalized because of our Ivy League rules.”
Either way, Cusworth will not be in uniform on Saturday night and it remains a mystery as to how Harvard will respond without its 7-foot center.
“It’s kind of wild card,” Dow said. “Something like that happens to a team and their back is up against the wall. I expect them to be extremely scrappy. I don’t expect a drop in their play at all.”
Cornell knows all about playing without the aid of one of its top players, as it has played the majority of this year without last year’s leading scorer, sophomore Adam Gore.
For Harvard, Jim Goffredo, Drew Housman and Evan Harris will likely pick up the offensive slack in Cusworth’s absence. All three are averaging more than ten points a game this season.
“Fortunately we haven’t played Harvard with [Cusworth] yet this year,” Donahue said. “Our guys don’t have this mindset of what it is like to play them without him.”
Although Harvard is averaging over 75 points per game this season — 10 more than Cornell — Donahue is confident in his team’s ability to play the role of chameleon and adjust its style of play to any tempo.
“We are a team that is able to adjust,” Donahue said. “I am very willing to push the basketball. … I expect the [Harvard] game to be high scoring.”
Taking on much of that scoring, as has been the case much of the season, will be freshmen Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale.
“With Lou handling the ball and Ryan shooting it, we can definitely score,” Dow said.
In order to prepare for the Ivy League road schedule, the Red participated in the William & Mary Tip-Off Classic at the start of December. The Red took second place, going 1-1. More importantly, however, the tournament allowed the team a chance to tackle the mental challenge of a longer road trip.
“Being mentally prepared is one of the biggest things going into a back-to-back game weekend, especially on the road,” Ihekweazu said. “Outside of on- the-court play, mental toughness is the most important thing.”