February 18, 2008

Men's Basketball Still Unbeaten

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The way men’s basketball freshman forward Aaron Osgood jumped out of his seat and sprinted on to the court, you might have thought his seat was on fire. Osgood, though, had just lost control in a moment of ecstatic exhilaration. How could he control himself? He was witnessing one of the more improbable comebacks in recent Cornell basketball history. Six unanswered points in 25 seconds. “That’s probably the best comeback I’ve ever been a part of,” said sophomore forward Alex Tyler, who was responsible for the final six Cornell (16-5, 8-0 Ivy) points.
Certainly the Red’s 72-71 win at Harvard (6-18, 1-7) Friday night was worthy of any adjective used to describe the unexpected — implausible, unbelievable, incredible — words used to explain the unexplainable.
“Right after the game and in the locker room,” Tyler paused, at a loss for words. “It was a great feeling.”
“It was,” said sophomore Louis Dale, “crazy.”
But it would not have been possible had it not been for Tyler’s three buckets in the final 25 seconds. A 3-pointer by Harvard guard Jeremy Lin — who had 15 points — with 42 seconds remaining put the Crimson up 71-66. More often than not, that would have been the final nail in the coffin.
Cornell head coach Steve Donahue gambled and burned his last timeout right then.
“We still had enough time to attack the rim — we didn’t need a 3,” Dale said. “That’s what our team was thinking the entire time. We just wanted to be aggressive going to the goal.”
“We didn’t think it was over, but we really had to execute,” said Tyler, who had 19 points and a game-high 10 boards.
And that’s exactly what Dale — who finished with 12 points — did on the next possession, breaking down his defender and attacking the rim.
“Louis drove in and took a shot and I thought he was fouled, but they didn’t call it,” Tyler said.
Tyler crashed the boards, though, grabbed the ball, and scored on a put-back. The team immediately went into a man-to-man full-court press. Harvard tried to break it with a baseball style downfield lob on the inbounds pass. Lin got the ball, but Cornell sophomore Ryan Wittman didn’t let him get comfortable.
“Jeremy Lin stumbled and we were able to get a trap on him and he lost it out of bounds,” Dale said.
“[That was a] huge defensive play by Ryan,” Tyler said.
The Red got the ball back, but the clock had ticked down under 20 seconds. Still, down three, the squad’s mentality remained focused on aggressively getting into the lane.
Dale brought the ball up quickly and dumped it in to Tyler coming across the lane. Tyler turned and sent a hook shot at the basket.
“[I] was pretty open and the guy came out from the other side and obviously goal tended it,” Tyler said.
Another Harvard mistake, another Cornell break. Things seemed to be falling in line. But with 9 seconds left, the Red still trailed 71-70. Harvard went to inbound the ball. Cornell manned up in a full-court press. Then the ref’s whistle blew and that’s when Osgood flew out of his spot on the bench and raced onto the court. The ref had called a five-second violation on the Crimson.
Cornell ball.
Donahue signaled the inbounds play from the bench.
[img_assist|nid=27894|title=Alexander the great|desc=Sophomore forward Alex Tyler tallied six points in the final 25 seconds to lead Cornell in a come-from-behind victory over Harvard Friday night.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]“I think they were worried about Ryan Wittman [who had a game-high 20 points] coming off the second screen,” Tyler said. “[Sophomore center] Jeff Foote was on the block and was going to come up and set a screen for Ryan after he set a screen for me. So I think they were really focused on not letting Ryan get an easy look. When Ryan set the screen on my man, my man helped on Ryan for a second and hesitated, which left me open enough to get a shot off.”
A shot that he made to put Cornell up one with 7 seconds on the clock.
“It was a play that we had run throughout the game,” Dale said. “What was funny was they had stopped it every time we ran it except that one time. They hugged Ryan and that left Alex wide open for a layup.”
Harvard still had one more chance, however. Without calling a timeout, guard Drew Housman — who was Harvard’s leading scorer with 18 — took the ball the length of the court.
“I didn’t want to foul him, but I wanted to contest his shot,” Dale said. “So he tried drawing a foul and I put my hands up and he threw up a wild shot.”
The rebound went out of bounds off of Wittman’s hand, but the Crimson fumbled the inbounds pass and it was over.
“Excitement, overjoyed,” Dale searched for the right term. “Really happy that we didn’t let the game slip away. It was a huge win because in the League every game matters.”
For most of the contest, though, it certainly did seem like Cornell would let the game slip away. From the start, Harvard was controlling the tempo of the game, working the shot clock and waiting for a good shot. In contrast, the Red’s trigger finger was quick on the offensive end.
“We were taking quick shots,” Dale said. “We weren’t really working the offense too well. We didn’t move the ball from side to side quickly enough.”
Despite the sloppiness and nine first-half turnovers, Cornell went into the locker room up five, 34-29. After shooting one-for-six from behind the arc in the first stanza, the Red was forced to find other means to score.
“When we weren’t hitting shots we knew we could go down low,” Tyler said. “We knew we had an advantage down low. Even Ryan had a smaller guy on him so we posted him up a few times. We just really felt that on the blocks we had a pretty good advantage in strength.”
Indeed, of Wittman’s nine field goals, only two were 3s, an unusual ratio for him.
The big men also helped make up for the Red’s lackluster outside shooting by controlling the glass, outrebounding the Crimson 35-23.
“[That] was huge,” Tyler said. “Then we also used it to not let them get a lot of second-chance opportunities. It really limited them in what they could do.”
Harvard came out of the break, though, and pulled away from Cornell. The Crimson ran its offense crisply and got good looks.
“They were just running their offense and waiting until they got a great shot,” Dale said. “We had to guard them pretty much the entire 35 seconds of the shot clock. It kind of wore us down and we kind of collapsed on defense every now and then and they would get an easy shot. They set a lot of screens and different action like that. We weren’t really talking on defense like we need to stop those screens and make sure we don’t have a breakdown.”
By the midway point of the second half, Harvard had built up an 11-point advantage and it seemed an upset was in the making. Slowly, though, Cornell worked its way back into the contest. Without any one particular run of note, the Red got the lead down to two at 68-66 with 1:08 remaining.
“Louis and the guards started penetrating and getting into the lane and drawing some fouls more than they were earlier in the game,” Tyler said. “I think the guards got a lot more aggressive as far as penetrating. And also the bigs were getting pretty good position.”
But that’s when the drama began unfolding — Lin’s 3, Tyler’s three buckets, Harvard’s three turnovers. All it really totaled up to in the end, though, was another Cornell win. It was an important win, though. Tyler said Donahue told the team after, “We need to win those kind of close games if we’re going to be champions.”
“The excitement and energy was just ridiculous,” Tyler said. “We all were ecstatic, we all knew we didn’t play that well and that Harvard played one of their better games of the year and we kind of just stole one. … It just gave us that much confidence in ourselves that we can come back from something like that.”