February 12, 2007

M. Cagers Pull Within Half-Game of Ivy Leader

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Senior tri-captain Andrew Naeve hurried to get a hand in the face of Brown’s sharpshooter Mark McAndrew as the clock wound down on the second half of Friday night’s men’s basketball matchup — and he was too late. McAndrew’s got the 3-point shot off uncontested, but the ball sailed over the rim, clearing the iron entirely and sending Cornell to a 61-59 victory.

“I just tried to distract him as much as possible,” Naeve said. “Luckily the shot was pretty deep and he missed it.”

Despite the result, it was a shot that Brown head coach Craig Robinson was happy to get.

“We got a wide open shot for our best guy, who is probably one of the best 3-point shooters in the league,” he said. “And he missed it.”

Brown (7-16, 2-6 Ivy) would have one more shot when Chris Skrelja intercepted the Red’s (13-9, 6-2 Ivy) inbounds pass near halfcourt, but his desperation heave was not even close.

After last weekend’s last-second loss to Harvard, Cornell head coach Steve Donahue was happy to see a final shot go in his squad’s favor.

“This whole season has been back-and-forth and we have been on both sides of it,” he said. “You want to win any way you can and, even if [Brown] wins, I would have been happy with our effort.”

The first half of the game was a defensive battle, with neither team stepping up to take control of the game. Near halftime, with the game tied at 22, Cornell stalled for the last shot. Freshman Louis Dale took a pass from senior tri-captain Graham Dow and drilled a 3-pointer to give Cornell the lead heading into the second half — or so it thought. Instead, McAndrew, who led all scorers with 17 points, would get off a deep 3 at the buzzer and nail it to square the teams for the third time of the night.

For the Red, the second half kicked into high gear when freshman Ryan Wittman knocked down an NBA-distance 3 to give the Red a 35-34 lead with about 15 minutes to go. A pair of driving layups by Dow — his only points of the game — gave Cornell a five-point lead. Dow had eight assists in the game.

“When we play well, it seems like Graham plays well,” Donahue said. “The game was very much in limbo and he did a great job of getting to the rim, finding open guys and finishing.”

With 11:35 left to play, the Bears would commit their seventh foul of the half and put the Red in the bonus. Cornell capitalized on its opportunities at the charity stripe, making 14-of-17 attempts.

“[The foul shots] were a big part of the game,” Donahue said. “We were both really defending each other well, but they were fouling more. … We shot a decent percentage, but that was big, we were very fortunate to get to the line.”

Robinson saw the plethora of fouls as somewhat predictable.

“You expect that on the road in a league game,” he said. “Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. The game was close enough where both teams had a chance to win it at the end, and that is what we wanted.”

Cornell responded at the line after shooting less than 50 percent a week ago against Harvard.

“At Harvard we didn’t shoot very well,” Dale said. “All week in practice we worked on just getting our rhythm back and I think it played a huge role.”

Cornell pushed its lead to 48-41 on two free throws by Naeve with under 10 minutes left. Two quick scores by Brown cut the lead to three, before Naeve came up with the play of the game on a thunderous dunk from the right baseline.

“I saw the guy step up to take a charge and I just wanted to throw it down as hard as I could,” he said.

Naeve did just that, tallying two points en route to a dominant statistical night with 11 points, 12 boards, two blocks and two steals. Cornell would maintain its lead for the rest of the game, with McAndrew’s miss sealing the Red’s fifth league victory.

Cornell’s win came on a putrid shooting night, in which the cagers shot only 35 percent. And while leading scorers Wittman and Dale were still able to get 14 points apiece, they did so on a combined 7-of-27 from the floor, including 4-of-14 from downtown.