December 1, 2008

Cornell Falls at Indiana After Beating E. Michigan

Print More

Yesterday, said Indiana men’s basketball head coach Tom Crean, Cornell brought out the best in the Hoosiers.
While the compliment was nice for Cornell, it didn’t make the final result, a 72-57 loss, any easier to handle for Cornell head coach Steve Donahue.
“We just didn’t get out and play well from the start,” he said. “It was not one of our better games.”
And this was on the heels of an efficient, 40-minute effort in a 67-54 win over Eastern Michigan (1-6) last Tuesday — perhaps one of the Red’s better games of the year. Cornell played both games without junior point guard Louis Dale, still nursing a hamstring, meaning Cornell went with a fairly small rotation in both games. Senior co-captain Brian Kreefer was the only player off the bench to log extended minutes in both games.
[img_assist|nid=33915|title=Like father, like son|desc=Returning to his father’s alma mater, junior Ryan Wittman (20) scored a game-high 28 points at Indiana yesterday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Despite all this, the Red (4-3) gave the Hoosiers (4-2) all they could handle yesterday afternoon.
“It was a great win for us,” Crean said in the postgame press conference. “ … We played a very, very strong game against a very, very strong team.”
Crean — who said he would be “surprised” if Cornell did not reach the NCAA tournament for the second straight year — cited his defense’s intensity as a prime reason for the win. Donahue agreed, pointing out his team’s inability to carry out its offensive game plan like it had against Eastern Michigan.
“The majority of our troubles were on the offensive end,” he said. “I think we [just struggled with] execution. We weren’t poised enough. We had open shots, but we just didn’t finish them. We weren’t patient. I thought we took quick shots.”
The quick shots resulted in a lack of ball movement and only nine assists compared to the team’s average of 15.4 assists per game on the season. The Red shot an uncharacteristic 32.7 percent from the floor, including 33.3 percent from behind the arc.
“I thought we did a better job today of staying with our men [on defense],” Crean said. “We didn’t want to help off the 3-point line.”
While junior Geoff Reeves struggled the most adjusting to Indiana’s tough perimeter defense, shooting 1-for-11 from the floor, junior Ryan Wittman thrived. The All-Ivy standout — whose father was a Big-Ten Player of the Year at Indiana — played all 40 minutes and netted a career-high 28 points, almost half of Cornell’s total.
“I remember when Ryan was in high school and he was so much skinnier,” Crean said. “I’m going to use this as an example [with my players of what happens] when you work at the game year round — which I know he does.”
Indiana, not Wittman, however, had the hot hand coming out of the gate. By the time Cornell found its footing, the team was already in a 14-4 hole. The Red settled in and closed the gap to within one nine minutes into the first half. As was the pattern all game, though, each time Cornell charged, Indiana responded. A 10-point run quickly gave the Hoosiers another double-digit lead.
“To play in this kind of environment, you have to be ready to go,” Donahue said, referencing the frenzied Indiana crowd singled out by Crean after the game for praise. “Unfortuntately, I think we weren’t.”
The Hoosiers shot nearly 62 percent for the first half, connecting on an even half of their 3s. Freshman Tom Pritchard was a main proponent of the high mark, as he connected on all seven of his field goal attempts and finished with 23 points. Although Pritchard tacked on seven rebounds and no assists, it was his court vision that impressed both Crean and Donahue.
“Pritchard did a terrific job of getting the ball in the post, getting fouled when he didn’t score,” Donahue said of the swingman who made 9-of-13 free throws. “He played very well.”
“His teammates love looking for him because he’s such an excellent passer,” Crean said. “It might be his greatest strength. … Our players know when they cut and get free, there’s a pretty good chance he’s going to find them.”
With Indiana looking to pull away as the second half opened, Wittman took it on his shoulders to keep Cornell in the game. A run by Wittman and senior Jeff Foote — the only other Red player to finish in double digits with 13 points to complement nine boards — brought Cornell within four with just over eight minutes left.
“[Wittman] got a couple of baskets that we lost him on, but for the most part, he had to earn his baskets,” Crean said. “He’s an outstanding player.”
Cornell could not move the ball as a team, however.
“I thought he had a lot of looks,” Donahue said. “When we fell behind I think Ryan probably took some shots that he normally wouldn’t have taken. For the most part, though, everybody played a part in it. We didn’t do a very good job of getting open looks.”
And this time, when Indiana went on yet another run, Cornell finally didn’t counter. The Hoosiers pulled away a bit as the clock ran down.
Oddly enough, much of what hurt the Red in its loss to the Hoosiers — lack of execution, lack of a consistent post presence, lack of ball movement — was exactly what had led Cornell to victory several days earlier.
“I think we did a great job of taking what the defense gave us for most of the night,” Donahue said. The win was the ninth-year coach’s 100th career victory.
Wittman, with 19 points, paced a group of four Red players in double figures. Reeves and Foote each tallied 15, and junior Alex Tyler tacked on 10. Cornell controlled the lane, scoring 32 points in the paint to Eastern Michigan’s 18.
“I think that’s a case of we went inside early, and then we started making shots on the outside and we went back inside to Jeff late in the game,” Donahue said.
The Red trailed early, but the post play of Foote opened up some looks for Cornell’s shooters, which they took advantage of. Reeves and freshman Chris Wrobleski hit some key 3s to bring the team back from an early deficit and amass a three-point lead by halftime.
Seeing the success of the Red’s shooters, the Eagles defense tried to key in on them a bit more.
“Our guys sensed that they were getting chased and they went to Jeff because he had a one-on-one down there, and he’s tough to guard in that situation,” Donahue said.
Foote went to work down low, abusing his matchup by either going to the rim, or drawing the defense to him and feeding his teammates for open layups.
The final four minutes saw the center net three buckets and collect three assists.
“We moved the ball well and they started chasing us a little bit, so we went back inside,” Donahue said.