March 12, 2008

Non-Conference Play Primes Red for Ivy Foes

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Every coach tries to schedule games that will prepare his or her team for peak performance in conference play. Cornell got some intense training early this season, as it traveled to face two of college basketball’s most celebrated teams, Syracuse and Duke.
The Red was dominated by the Orange Dec. 22 in the Carrier Dome, 80-64. The contest against Duke was competitive, with the Red even holding a lead in the first half. The Blue Devils would eventually earn the win, 81-67. Despite both games resulting in losses, the Red used the experiences to propel it to its current 16-game winning streak.
The Red’s bid for upsets started that day at the Carrier Dome. In the contest, the Red were out-rebounded, 52-37, and shot 10-for-25 from the 3-point line.
“When we played Syracuse, we played not to lose,” said men’s basketball head coach Steve Donahue. “We didn’t play to win.”
The game was junior center Jeff Foote’s second game suiting up for the Red after transferring from St. Bonaventure.
“Syracuse wasn’t a fun game for us at all,” Foote said “We have come along way since then. … It’s the game that opened our eyes and made us know that we had to be a new team. Outscoring people wasn’t working for us and we were soft defensively. We needed to change that quick.”
After earning wins against Stony Brook and Quinnipiac, Cornell traveled to Durham, N.C., to take on then-No. 8 Duke. The Blue Devils play in Cameron Indoor Stadium, one of college basketball’s most feared locations for road teams. Learning from the Syracuse game, Cornell came out strong against Duke.
At one point, the Red held a three-point lead with six minutes left in the first half before losing it going into halftime. Cornell kept the margin in single figures for the majority of the second half.
“At Duke, it wasn’t as crazy as you might think,” Foote said. “Looking back at it, it was a great experience, but when we were there everybody on the team was all about business. We felt that we could win that game and prove that we can play with teams like Duke.”
The performance earned credit from big Duke names ranging from head coach Mike Krzyzewski to point guard Greg Paulus.
The game was also a homecoming for junior guard Jason Battle, who hails from Wilmington, N.C., and had approximately 15 family and friends cheering for him.
“That was a great experience for me,” Battle said. “Growing up in North Carolina, Duke is always on television so to be playing in Cameron [Indoor Stadium] against them was special”
The Red grew more confident in its abilities after hanging with one of the best NCAA programs in the nation. It will be those experiences that the Red will count on as it plays in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“We learned that we can play with big name teams in their environments,” Battle said. “We realized that no matter if it is in front of 1,000 people or 20,000 people, we can still compete.”