February 11, 2008

Foote Scores 18, Kickstarts Offense Against Princeton

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Men’s basketball junior Jeff Foote stooped through the doorway to the press conference after the Red’s 72-61 win over Princeton Friday night. Noticing the small crowd of people waiting to ask him about his 18-point night, he said, “Lots of pressure, huh?”
Foote may have been bashful of the attention he got after the game, but during the contest Foote showed nothing but confidence as he willfully took on the pressure of bringing his team back into the game.
“Jeff Foote had a lot to do with everything we did tonight,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “I think he did a terrific job on both ends.”
With the first half moving along and the Red (14-6, 6-0 Ivy) trailing, Foote entered the game and changed the feel and pace for Cornell (14-5, 6-0 Ivy) both defensively and offensively. [img_assist|nid=27611|title=Better luck next time|desc=Junior center Jeff Foote (left) scores over a Penn defender during the Red’s 87-74 victory Saturday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
With Princeton (5-14, 2-2) ahead by five with just over eight minutes left in the half, Foote got an easy bucket rolling unmarked off a screen-and-roll and then proceeded to become more assertive.
“They were going straight man because they didn’t want to leave our shooters and Jeff took advantage of that,” Donahue said.
Foote set up shop in the post and started calling for the ball.
“I felt like I really had an advantage on the block,” Foote said.
On the next trip down, Foote backed his man down, faked a spin toward the middle, then drop stepped to the hoop and laid it in. After hitting two more free throws, Foote started dictating the offense. With each ensuing basket, the crowd got more engaged, chanting, “Feed the Foote! Feed the Foote!” and waving small paper feet with Foote’s face on them.
“My shot was going in so I wanted the ball,” Foote said. “I gave our offense a little boost so I was demanding the ball.”
The ensuing possession, Foote got his possession on the block. Sophomore Ryan Wittman — who had a game-high 20 points — set up in the corner behind the arc while sophomore Louis Dale handled the ball at the top of the key. Foote got Dale’s attention and pointed to Wittman, wanting Wittman to get the ball and give him the entry pass into the post.
The passes went 1-2 just as planned and Foote did his part in backing his man down, turning and scoring to put the Red ahead for the first time all night. It was a lead the team would not relinquish and a personal nine-point run by Foote after tacking on another free throw.
“The post defense, we have to work on that,” said Princeton senior Kyle Koncz, who led the Tigers with 19 points. “They got it in there too easily.”
Despite having little answer for Foote, Princeton maintained a defensive intensity throughout that kept the Tigers in the game.
“I thought they did a terrific job of communicating and switching [on defense],” Donahue said. “I thought they really took us out of stuff. I thought they showed great energy on the defensive end.”
The Tigers efficient marking took the Red out of its screen-and-roll game and reduced the effectiveness of cutters, two of the main ways Cornell has gotten baskets this year.
With the Red’s inability to put early points on the board, Princeton went about its business on the offensive end. The Tigers rotated the ball well and found themselves with a number of open 3s. Averaging only 7.4 3s per game as a team, Princeton had five by halftime and 12 total in the game, shooting at a brisk 52.2 percent for the night.
Koncz led the 3-point attack for the Tigers, pouring in five-of-seven from behind the arc.
“Kyle Koncz got off to a good start,” Donahue said. “I thought we relaxed early on and let [them get a lot of open] 3s.”
Princeton senior Kevin Steuerer chipped in three 3s as well, only missing once from behind the arc. He finished with 17 points.
“Their kid Steuerer … I love watching him on film and I hate playing against him,” Donahue said. “He’s not known as a shooter, but if you leave him open he’s gutsy enough that he makes three 3s. That’s the type of kid he is.”
The Red overcame its shortcomings on defense with sniper-like shooting on the offensive end, though. In the first half, Cornell drained a lights-out 65.2 percent from the floor, finishing at 54.3 percent for the game.
“At times I thought they were out-executing us but we found a way to gut it out on the defensive end and get good looks on the offensive end,” Donahue said.
The Red parlayed its hot shooting into a 37-29 halftime lead, scoring the last seven points of the period. The Tigers weren’t done, however. The second half was a half of runs. Three separate times Cornell pushed its lead over 10, but it was only the third time that the lead held.
Each time the Tigers charged, though, the Red got stingy on defense. Nearly five minutes into the half, the lead was pushed to 12. Reminiscent of the first half, Cornell struggled to rotate defensively, and the Princeton shooters found open looks from every angle behind the arc. In contrast, the Red couldn’t get anything going on offense.
“We really took a couple quick ones that I didn’t think were the kinds of shots we needed at that time,” Donahue said.
“We stayed with our stuff,” Koncz said. “Foote was out there affecting shots, but we got a lot of stuff in. We just stayed confident. I think at that point [in the second half] we were setting a lot of good screens and getting people open.”
Donahue switched to a zone to try and guard the screens more effectively. It lasted all of two possessions as Princeton burned it with a slashing layup and a 3 from the corner by Noah Savage that brought the Tigers to within two at 50-48 — a 16-4 run. Donahue called a timeout.
“I said ‘You know, we have to somehow figure out how to get stops,’” he said. “And I think after that we switched better. We were almost switching everything at that point. They were getting mismatches and we were running into screens. But for that four- or five-minute stretch, we executed very well on the defensive end of the floor.”
And it was that stretch that put the game away for Cornell. Wittman started it with a 3 off a screen, which ignited an 8-0 Cornell run that spanned 3:27.
Still, for Princeton — a squad that lost 12 in a row earlier in the season — it was an effort that impressed Donahue.
“I thought Princeton played terrific,” Donahue said. “I think they keep getting better if you look at where they were a month ago compared to where they are now.”