February 25, 2008

Red scorches Yale with late defense, hot shooting

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If you had walked into Newman Arena midway through the second half on Friday, you would not have thought the men’s basketball team had never trailed in the contest. But in actuality, the Red entered the second half behind by three. That deficit was quickly erased as Cornell opened the second stanza with a 16-3 run and didn’t look back, defeating Yale, 85-65.
“Having the shooters and scorers on the team that we do, its just matter of time before we get on our run,” said junior center Jason Harford. “At the start of the second half, that’s exactly what we did. We executed, hit open shots and everybody hit them. It was a great way to start the second half.”
Despite playing in front of a raucous home crowd, the Bulldogs came out with a fury, and just as it has done in the past few games, the Red came out slowly. The Bulldogs rushed out to an 11-4 lead and stayed hot, shooting 55 percent in the first half. The Red shot 42 percent in the first half and was carried offensively by the inside scoring of Hartford and sophomore Alex Tyler. The second half, however, was a different story.
“I thought we had a very good second half,” said Cornell head coach Steve Donahue. “The guys made a terrific adjustment. They all agreed we were a little too soft on the defensive end. We allowed too much. … After feeling them out in the first half, we did a great job of guarding them, individually playing defense and not worrying about the help.”
The defensive adjustment led to the Red’s eventual win as the squad held the Bulldogs to 28.6 percent shooting in the second half, including 25.0 percent from the 3-point line.
One key to the defensive improvement stems from the attention paid to Yale’s All-Ivy caliber senior guard, Eric Flato.
“I think Eric had such a good season last year that there is so much attention on him,” Donahue said. “He is probably more of a point guard and he is good when he is sharing the ball. Right now, they need him to score so much that it is limiting his effectiveness.”
The Red took advantage of Flato’s increased amount of responsibility and forced him into tough shots all night. Flato finished the contest with 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting with three assists.
In addition to the Red’s improved defensive play in the second half, the offense turned up as well. Cornell shot 57 percent in the second half, led by junior guard Adam Gore’s 15 second-half points.
“We needed to be aggressive on offense,” Gore said. “In the first half, we were a little bit too passive. … I was able to get some open shots and when I did get the ball, I tried to create a couple of things for some of the guys.”
Donahue credited the Red’s post players for the team’s second-half shooting success.
“The reason that we are a good offensive team is because we can score down low,” Donahue said. “Not only are those guys good offensive players, but they can pass and do a lot of different things. They are as good as other post players at our level.”
“Having the guys down low makes everybody’s job a lot easier,” Gore said. “Teams have to worry so much about [senior] Jason [Hartford] or [junior Jeff] Foote scoring that I got some open looks and knocked them down and built a little confidence. Every time you get the ball and you got a little daylight, you feel like you can knock the shot down.”
The efficiency of the Red’s bigs helped the offense operate smoothly. Sophomore Alex Tyler scored 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting, Hartford totaled 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field and Foote added nine points by hitting 3-of-4 shot attempts.
“We played terrific offensively in the second half,” Donahue said. “Its just one of those games were everything was just clicking.”
The Red’s success can also be accredited to the team’s poise. The Red only had four turnovers, with none in the second half.
“We are not going to get a lot of tip dunks — we are not going to get a lot of those crazy athletic plays,” Donahue said. “So we better be good at what we do. One of them is taking care of the ball, sharing the ball and shooting foul shots. I think that is something you saw in the second half.”
Add in those factors with a packed Newman Arena and the Red had a formula for success.
“I thought it was loud right from the start,” Donahue said. “We talked about it when we went to Duke. We enjoy that type of environment where people are getting on you when you are playing well. I saw that in the first half and Yale was really fired up. In the second half, once we got a lead, the crowd really had an effect on the game.”