January 21, 2008

Cornell Tops Columbia in Ivy Opener

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The men’s basketball team’s Ivy League season got off to a rocky but successful starts as Cornell defeated visiting Columbia on Saturday afternoon, 70-64. The win was overshadowed by the unexpected and sudden departure of junior Collin Robinson earlier in the week, which left little time for the Red to form a contingency plan. The team confirmed that Robinson would not return.
Robinson, a transfer from USC, sat out last season due to NCAA rules. He was second on the team in assists and third in points per game this season, playing 13 games but starting none.
“I thought Cornell played really well,” said Columbia head coach Joe Jones. “Losing Collin Robinson and playing as well as they did tonight just shows what type of year they are going to have.”
The absence of Robinson gives junior Jason Battle and sophomore Geoff Reeves a chance to play more minutes.
“Geoff [Reeves] can step up and be a good player,” said junior guard Adam Gore. ”He can do some of the stuff that Collin did for us, I think one of the good things about this team is that if any of us were to go out we have guys who can step up.”
In addition to the unexpected departure, Cornell had to deal with a bad start to Saturday’s game, one in which the Red saw itself down 14-4 after only a few minutes. Throughout the season, whenever the Red would come out to a bad start, it would often be Robinson’s play off the bench that brought the team back into the contest. In this game, however, it was a much taller player that made a factor, sophomore 7-0 footer Jeff Foote.
“He made it look easy,” Jones said. “Everybody was struggling to score and he was making it look easy.”
Foote entered the game and quickly became a factor. His inside play on both ends of the court, especially on defense —he made a two-handed block led — to fast break opportunities and opened up the offense, tying the game at 24 apiece when sophomore guard Louis Dale found Gore for a 3-pointer. Another 3-pointer, this time from Dale, capped a 10-0 run that gave the Red the lead 27-24 at the 2:56 mark. The play for the rest of the half was nip and tuck resulting in a 31-31 score at the half.
“I thought Columbia played terrific,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “In all they made shots and they made extra passes. I thought we had to play extremely tough to win the game.”
And that is exactly what the Red did. On numerous possessions both teams were forced to shoot late into the shot clock with intense man-to-man defense. With the absence of Robinson and Reeves inexperience with the new role, it was Dale that took matters into his own hand on numerous possessions.
In the first half, Dale settled for a lot of 3-pointers, going 2-for-8 from beyond the arc, but in the second half, Dale penetrated more and it turned out to be a huge factor.
Dale broke a 48-48 tie after bobbing through the defense and getting to the rim to put the Red up by two. Later, he dribbled along the baseline and made a reverse layup to put the Red up, 57-53. Another aggressive move to the basket finished with a spin and layup kept the Red ahead of the contest, 63-58.
The aggressive play would last until the final buzzer, but it was key free throws that were nailed by Gore, who went 5-for-6, Wittman and Dale sealed the contest.
Four players finished in double digits for Cornell, with Dale’s 18 points leading all scorers. Foote finished with 13 points, six rebounds and four blocks.