November 21, 2008

Cornell Faces Tough Mid-Major Siena

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The Cornell and Siena men’s basketball teams have a lot in common — both are New York mid-majors, which won their leagues last year (Ivy League and Metro At­lantic Ath­letic Con­fe­rence, respectively) and are the unanimous picks to repeat on the strength of largely returning starting rosters.
“We probably do have a better handle on what to expect from [Siena] since we played them last year,” said senior co-captain Jason Battle. “We know they’re a good team, they made the NCAA tournament last year and even won a game.”
[img_assist|nid=33796|title=Witty guy|desc=Junior forward Ryan Wittman got his first career double-double against Siena last year. The Red visit the Saints tomorrow night.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
In the two teams’ last matchup, the Red edged out the Saints at Newman Arena during Thanksgiving break, 83-77. This year, Cornell (2-1, 0-0 Ivy) will travel upstate to rematch Siena (1-0, 0-0 MAAC) tomorrow night in Albany, N.Y.
“It was a pretty competitive game last year,” said junior forward Ryan Wittman, who notched his first career double-double in the win, finishing with 14 points and 11 rebounds. “And [Siena’s starters are] all coming back, so we expect [the game] to be similar to last year.”
This year, Siena returns its top-4 scorers from that game — senior Kenny Hasbrouck (16 points) and juniors Edwin Ubiles (17 points), Ronald Moore (12 points) and Alex Franklin, who led the Saints with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
“Their starting five is basically returning, so they have a lot of veterans and a lot of good guard play,” Battle said. “Team defense is going to be the big thing [for us].”
“We’ve been really focused on defense [recently],” Wittman added. “We did that pretty well in our last game … but we’ve been doing that a lot in practice the last few weeks. [Siena has] a lot of guys who can score, so [the game is] really going to test our individual defense.”
Siena’s one and only game this season was a confidence booster — a decisive win over Boise St. on Monday, 82-52. By contrast, Cornell just finished a stretch of three games in five days.
“I don’t think fatigue [will hurt us],” Wittman said. “It’s still really early in the season, and we have a day off. If anything, I think it will help us, because you get better each game you play.”
The Red won two of those three games, splitting its Monday and Tuesday matches in the NIT Preseason Tip-Off East Regional after opening the season with a home win against South Dakota last Friday. The Red’s most recent contest was an 82-72 win Tuesday over another MAAC team, Loyola (Md.).
With the extra time on the court comes both fatigue and experience, especially having to deal with the absence of junior point guard Louis Dale, who has yet to play a game while he nurses a hamstring injury. His status for the weekend’s game was questionable as of yesterday.
“Everybody has had to step in [to fill his role],” Wittman said. “We’re starting to get used to playing without him, since he hasn’t been practicing.”
The Red has made some other adjustments over the past few games, going to 7-0 senior center Jeff Foote more in the post. As a result, Foote’s production has more than tripled.
After going 3-for-6 for six points against South Dakota, Foote exploded for 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting against St. John’s on Monday and 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting against Loyola. He has averaged over 30 minutes on the court so far this season, with 5.3 blocks per game.
Last year, Dale was the Red’s man of the hour against Siena, tallying six assists and nine rebounds. Fifteen of the point guard’s 20 points came in the second half, his three 3-pointers sparking Cornell to victory.
While Cornell went on to win the Ivy League but fall in the first round of the National tournament, Siena scored a first-round upset of Vanderbilt. Now, the Saints — ranked No. 29 in the nation, according to the Sports Illustrated preseason poll distributed last week — and the Red are facing each other again with a year’s worth of experience in the media limelight.