November 28, 2007

M. B-Ball Sneaks by Binghamton

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All alone on a quick transition attack, Binghamton’s Lazar Trifunovic threw down an assertive two-handed dunk. Before the ball even hit the floor, the whistle cut through the cheers from the large visiting crowd. Cornell’s head coach, Steve Donahue, called a timeout. With his squad in a 7-0 hole only 87 seconds into the contest, he stomped out to meet his team trotting off the court.
“I just really got on them a bit,” Donahue said. “I asked them, ‘Why won’t we play our best right off the bat?’ We were just passive and accepting. We weren’t strong with the ball. We made careless plays. I always say, ‘Go out and make plays. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.’ We were afraid to make mistakes early on and that’s when mistakes happen.”
While the Bearcats would stretch their lead to 9-0 on another errant Red pass, Cornell (4-1) turned things around fairly quickly after that, pulling away late in the first half and playing even the rest of the way to earn a 73-68 victory over Binghamton (1-5).
The Red got good bench production from junior Brian Kreefer, who was three-of-four from the field and distributed well from the free throw line. But the squad was led by the backcourt trio of sophomores Louis Dale and Ryan Wittman and junior Collin Robinson. Dale had 17 points, Robinson 16 and Wittman 13. Wittman also pulled down a game-high eight rebounds, the third straight time he has led the squad in rebounding.
“You know, the first two games, I didn’t rebound too well,” Wittman said. “So it’s been what I’ve been concentrating on in practice and the last few games, just being more aggressive going after the ball.”
On defense against the Bearcats, however, the Red was too aggressive at times. Cornell switched between a variety of 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones throughout the game to clog the passing lanes and counter the baseline and backdoor cuts of Binghamton’s Princeton-style offense with four and five guards around the perimeter.
The Red was only effective in stretches, though.
“[The defense played] just OK,” Donahue said. “I thought we rotated well at times but other times they beat us in transition. We were just reaching too much, fouling too much. It just wasn’t one of our better games.”
The efficient stretches were what made the difference in the game for Cornell, though. Leading 32-30, Donahue called a timeout and switched from a 2-3 zone to a 1-3-1. The Bearcats, who had been getting open looks rotating the ball faster than the Red’s zone could shift, couldn’t find any seams in the final 3:46 of the half. They rotated the ball futilely and consistently held it too late in the shot clock, only getting three shots off in the final stretch before the break.
“That was the best ball we played all night was that stretch and that was the difference in the game,” Donahue said.
“I think the most effective thing was just switching up defenses so they didn’t know what was coming,” Wittman said. “They had to dribble the ball up the floor and then read our defense, then set up their offense. So I think that installed a little confusion and we got a lot of deflections out of it.”
Meanwhile, the Red’s offense reeled off 11 straight points to head into the locker room with a 43-30 lead.
That was the only stretch where Cornell’s offense really dominated, however. Binghamton’s guards were playing tight on Cornell’s guards, forcing them to pump fake and go to the hole. Unfortuately, the Red was bothered at times in the lane by the length of the Bearcats’ frontline, particularly Reggie Fuller, who had five steals and all six of his squad’s blocks.
“Going into the lane we haven’t really seen that kind of length yet,” Robinson said. “I think that again is a part of decision making. Maybe we could have kicked the ball out instead of them getting a blocked shot. I think that will better itself later.”
“Some of the plays where we usually get to the rim I thought they bothered us more than usual,” Donahue said. “That was more deflecting passes and turnovers more than shots.”
Still, as the pace of the game slowed down, Cornell responded each time Binghamton brought the lead under double digits.
“We were able to come back and match their intensity not only on the defensive end, but on the offensive end as well,” Robinson said.
Until the last several minutes, that is. As has been the trend this season, the Red found a way to turn a long-lasting double-digit lead, into a win separated by only a few possessions.
“Part of that is we haven’t been in that situation a lot over the last couple of years,” Donahue said. “… I’m disappointed in the execution on the offensive end down the stretch of games. We haven’t done a good job of that. We’re going to get better at that.”
And while late turnovers, including a rare five-second violation on Robinson, accounted for the slimmer margin of victory, the Red was able to win with less than its best. Donahue made sure to emphasize that much of this was due to Binghamton’s effort.
“I thought they played well,” Donahue said. “They have some quickness, size and athleticism. And when they’re focused, they play hard and we got a good game from them. I give them credit. [Binghamton head coach Kevin Broadus] is doing a good job with those guys. They came in here ready to go.”