NEW YORK CITY — Men’s basketball sophomore Louis Dale was the first to be introduced in the Red’s starting lineup during its game at Columbia last Saturday night. As soon as his name was read over the loud speaker, a chant went up from the audience.
“Col-gate re-ject,” was what junior Alex Tyler heard next. Each starter heard something similar.
When the game actually started, though, it was the Columbia offense that was rejected time and time again. The Red held the Lions scoreless for the first six minutes of the ballgame on its way to a 72-54 win.
Junior Adam Gore led the team (10-5, 2-0 Ivy) with 17 points, 14 of which came in the first half, while sophomore Ryan Wittman tallied 16 points to go with eight boards. In stark contrast to last week, when Columbia (7-10, 0-2) lost 70-64 despite an early lead and a back-and-forth battle that went down to the wire, the Red never trailed Saturday and maintained a double-digit lead for most of the contest.
“I thought [our guys] were more focused [than last week], and right from the start you could tell we were locked in,” said head coach Steve Donahue.
“Mentally, they came out with a better focus than us,” said Columbia senior guard Brett Loscalzo, who led the Lions with 11 points — their only scorer in double figures. “They knew what they wanted to do. They executed and they were more efficient. We didn’t have that same fire we had the first week.”
Cornell’s intensity was on display from the opening tap, which Wittman won. Gore took the ball, and quickly attacked from the top of the key, streaking by his defender to the left side before hitting a short, fall-away jumper. It was a change in pace for Gore — who has not created many opportunities this year — and one he would display all evening.[img_assist|nid=26898|title=Get out of his way|desc=Junior guard Adam Gore (23) drives to the hoop during Saturday’s 72-54 win over Columbia in New York City. Gore led the Red with 17 points.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“I think it’s at a point now where we need him to so aggressive like he is,” Donahue said. “… I sat [Adam] down after the guys left and said, ‘This is what you are.’ You have to do it. You have to take a couple of hard ones to get used to it. You have to be a sniper. You can’t let teams off the hook. I think that’s what he was doing a couple of times [earlier this year] where he would catch it and just move the ball. At times that’s important. But his teammates need him to be aggressive. And I thought he was really aggressive from the start.”
While Gore was on his way to 14 first-half points, the rest of the squad showed they were prepared to be equally pugnacious against a Columbia team known to play a wear-em-down, drag-em-out style of basketball. On Cornell’s second possession, senior Jason Hartford pulled down two offensive rebounds, laying the ball in after the second rebound. Tyler scored on a putback on the very next possession. In the Red’s win last weekend, Columbia kept themselves in the game with a 12-4 advantage on the offensive glass and an 18-2 advantage in second-chance points.
By the time the Lions scored a free throw at the 14-minute mark, the Red already had four offensive rebounds, and four second-chance points.
“We have great goals for this team and we know we can’t continually play with someone beating us on the boards like that,” Donahue said. “… I look at the rebounding totals and I think it’s a team effort. They have two guys who do a great job [rebounding]. But I thought we could have other guys and other bodies around him, we could neutralize that effect.”
Indeed, Columbia’s John Baumann is second in the Ivy League with 6.6 rebounds per game, while Ben Nwachukwu tacks on 4.6 rpg as well. Cornell, meanwhile, has no players in the conference’s top-10 rebounders, and the game numbers reflect that. Wittman led the team with eight, but Hartford added seven, Tyler pulled down six and Dale and junior Jeff Foote chipped in four each. Overall, the Red outrebounded the Lions 41-27.
“They killed us on the offensive glass,” Loscalzo said.
The rebounding wasn’t the only thing that helped the Red jump out to an early advantage. Cornell’s defense was swarming and packed in the paint to counter Columbia’s talented front line. Baumann went off for 21 points and 11 boards last week. But at half time, Baumann was 0-4 from the floor and had only two rebounds. Baumann wouldn’t get another field goal attempt after intermission, finishing with six points — all from the charity stripe.
“They have a great bunch of big guys, they have a great rotation,” Baumann said. “They really did a good job of not letting us get anything easy inside. I think the thing that makes this team good is the quantity of big guys they have to where you can get one of their big guys in foul trouble and they don’t really seem to loose anything when they bring another one off the bench. I give all the credit to them in the way that they clogged the middle and didn’t let us get anything easy. When we did get some easy shots we weren’t able to capitalize on them.”
The Lions couldn’t even capitalize on the most open shot — the free throw. The Lions were 11-of-18 on the night, while the Red knocked down 20-of-25, accounting for half of the 18-point margin of victory.
With the inside clogged, Columbia was forced to kick it out and try its luck from long range. The Lions guard trio of Loscalzo, K.J. Matsui and Joe Bova, kept their team around for most of the game, hitting eight-of-11 from downtown.
But in the end, the Red won the hustle plays and that simply won them the game, according to Donahue. It helped them overcome a four-of-16 night from behind the arc, and foul trouble that was most felt when Dale had to sit out the last 6:28 of the first half with three fouls.
“[The hustle plays] were the whole game,” Donahue said. “I think we have enough talent to win in this league, but we can’t afford to be outworked.”
They were plays like Geoff Reeves stealing an outlet pass, taking it the other way for a layup and a foul, missing the free throw, but still running down his own miss before bouncing it off a Columbia player out of bounds to maintain possession.
“Reeves makes two in sequence in the first half that were huge that we had no right getting,” Donahue said. “… Those plays win basketball games in our league. The talents are very similar. You have to make those kind of plays.”