March 3, 2008

M. Basketball Starts Decisive Weekend Strong

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With a share of the Ivy League title on the line, the men’s basketball team stormed out into the second half with a 23-7 run and defeated Dartmouth, 75-59. The win gave the Red at least a share of the Ivy title, its first in 20 years. Heading into halftime, the Red was only up by five in a see-saw battle. The unbalanced offensive outputs between halves has been a recurring theme for the Red over the past couple weeks.
“You got to give credit to the other team,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “I thought we came out with great energy, got all the hustle plays in the first half. Shots weren’t falling and I think for the first time in a long time, we took some hard shots. I thought everybody wanted to break through.”
[img_assist|nid=28472|title=Handle the magic|desc=Geoff Reeves holds the ball in the Cornell’s 75-59 victory over Dartmouth on Friday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
The team eventually broke through in the second half, shooting 65 percent in the second stanza as opposed to 41 percent in the first half. If there was one thing that was consistent, however, it was the Red’s defense, especially sophomore Ryan Wittman’s. In the Red’s first contest against Dartmouth, the Green’s best scorer Alex Barnett did not play. His presence did not play too much of a factor in Friday’s game either, despite his 15.7 point per game average.
“[Barnett] was just taking hard shots,” Donahue said. “Ryan did a great job of forcing him out away from the basket. Ryan is a good match for him.”
“He didn’t have a good shooting night, they didn’t give him open looks,” said Dartmouth head coach Terry Dunn. “I thought Wittman did a good job and frustrated him a lot.”
Sophomore guard Louis Dale paced the Red in the first half, even with his 0-for-3 performance from the 3-point line. At half, Dale had nine points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal.
“He has allowed teams to play him soft,” Donahue said. “Teams were so worried about him penetrating that they forgot that he was the leading 3-point shooter in our league last year. He has gotten away from that.”
Donahue’s insistence on Dale becoming more aggressive with his shot paid off in the second half. In the second half, Dale went 3-for-4 from the 3-point went 3-for-4 from the 3-point line and scored 13 points. Dale finished the contest with 22 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
Dale and Wittman struggled last weekend shooting the ball, which resulted in Donahue forcing Dale to be more aggressive and finding easier ways for Wittman to score.
Last weekend, Wittman went 5-for-19 from the field but on Friday, Wittman finished with 14 points on 7-of-14 shooting.
“People always say he is a great shooter,” Donahue said. “The thing that makes him different is that he can make plays off the dribble. … We started calling his number to drive it to the basket. He is not one-dimensional. … There was a couple of plays that we usually run for him coming off of staggers or screens or side ball screens … I want to get him in the flow, get him easy baskets, they are obviously all over him outside. We ran a couple of post-ups and some side ball screens to get him in the game from that point on he hit a couple of critical baskets to get us the lead.”
Ironically, Wittman didn’t manage to nail one of his traditional jaw-dropping 3-pointers in the contest, going 0-for-4 from behind the arc but did get the assist in play of the game. Wittman found sophomore center Jeff Foote for an alley-oop on a fast break bucket that sent the crowd into a frenzy. Despite fighting a bacterial infection that made him miss the team’s early practice, Foote finished the contest with 11 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
“I think [his ability to run the floor] is what separates him from a lot of other guys,” Donahue said. “I said to the other guys that if he was 6-7 he would still be a good basketball player. He’s got good skill and he knows how to play and he runs. The fact that he is 7-0 gives us a huge advantage. He is always sprinting the floor.”
The win gave the Red a share of the Ancient Eight title and put it one step closer to its goal of sole possession of the Ivy’s NCAA tournament bid.
“The team was excited,” Foote said. “I can feel that they aren’t getting too excited. We just don’t want a share of the title, we want it all to ourselves.”
A day later, the Red secured the title with a resounding win over Harvard.
After Friday’s win, Dunn offered his opinion on the Red’s chances of success in the tournament.
“I like this Cornell team, I told Jeff that this is one of the best teams in the Ivy league since I’ve been here and that’s Penn included,” Dunn said. “They have a lot of pieces, I think they execute well and I think they know their roles and that’s all important when playing in the NCAA tournament. … I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t want to play them in the first round.”