Heading into Friday night’s game, the men’s basketball team sat only one game back of Penn for the top spot in the Ivy League. On the road against Dartmouth for the front end of a crucial two-game road trip, the Red took care of business against one of the league’s bottom- feeders, defeating the Green (7-11, 2-3 Ivy), 74-61, and improving to 4-1 in the Ivy League (11-8 overall) in the process. Behind a strong defensive effort and an impressive second- half effort, Cornell moved one step closer towards a potential run at the conference crown.
[img_assist|nid=21126|title=That’s mine|desc=Freshman Alex Tyler (33) soars to the rim in defeat of Columbia on Jan. 27. Tyler scored 14 points against Dartmouth this past Friday.|link=none|align=left|width=63|height=100]
The first half was very much a back and forth battle, with the Red pulling ahead by seven in the final minutes. With just 7:50 remaining, however, the game was tied at 20. But Cornell closed out the half on a 12-5 run, culminated by a pair of buckets by rookie Alex Tyler. The freshman was the game’s offensive force through the first 20 minutes of play, leading all scorers with 13 points off the bench and giving Cornell the advantage, 32-25.
“I came out with a lot of energy,” Tyler said. “That’s what the coaches and everybody wants from me off the bench. I just tried to be in the right spot at the right time.”
Much of his effectiveness down-low in the first half was a product of the defensive focus placed on senior center Andrew Naeve, who finished the game with only six points, all in the second half.
“Andrew was consistently drawing double teams,” said senior forward Ugo Ihekweazu, who added 12 points of his own. “Just being a basketball player, when a guy on your team is getting doubled, you know you need to flash and get open. That’s something we talked a lot about and we did a good job executing.”
Despite being up at halftime, the Red shot only 43.5 percent from the floor, while turning the ball over 12 times.
“We were disappointed in the first half,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “We were up seven, but it felt like it should have been 15. We missed some layups and our two seniors [Naeve and Graham Dows] had nine turnovers combined. Both those guys came out and played assertive in the second half.”
In addition, Cornell shot 60.9 percent after halftime, as freshmen Louis Dale and Ryan Wittman combined for 15 points. Classmate Geoff Reeves also saw considerable playing time, netting seven points on the night.
“[Reeves] had a herniated disc at the start of the season and then he got sick,” Donahue said. “He’s probably our best athlete. He is very good off the dribble, he can finish around the rim, and he’s a very good stand-still shooter. And he’s got a pedigree. He has been very successful at the high school level. I have great confidence in him. He can really help us on both ends of the floor. He’s really confident. He is nervous a little bit, but as he gets more reps in games, I think you’re going to see a kid that can help us.”
As for the rebounding department, the Red held a 32-29 advantage, as all five starters compiled at least four boards, including a team-high six by both Naeve and Dale.
“Dartmouth is a really quick team, but they are a little undersized,” Ihekweazu said. “They are not the best team in the league in terms of defensive rebounding, but they do a good job of crashing the boards on both ends. We really tried to focus on getting offensive rebounds and trying to control the paint.”
Despite the Red’s strong performance on the glass, the real difference in the game can be explained by Cornell’s defensive effort. Dartmouth managed to shoot 43.9 percent for the contest, including 39.3 percent in the first half.
“I think you need to raise the level of defensive intensity to win games on the road in this league,” Ihekweazu said. “They have some great scorers. We really focused on having a good team concept on defense and knowing where the ball was at all times.”
Dartmouth’s leading scorer, Leon Pattman, finished the game with 17 points, while Alex Barnett added 13.
“Pattman’s a heck of a player,” Ihekweazu said. “When you have players like that who can score, all you can do is attack them defensively, instead of playing off them a little. I think we did a good job of containing him tonight.”
Despite only three turnovers in the second half, Donahue feels his squad must do a better job at taking care of the ball moving forward.
“I think we can get better,” Donahue said. “That’s a thing we consistently look at. We didn’t take care of the ball the way we can. To beat the really good teams in this league, like Penn, we need to take care of the ball and I think we can do that.”