December 4, 2008

Red Falls Just Short of Syracuse Upset

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Led by an electric performance from junior Ryan Wittman, Cornell put a scare into No. 20 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome last night — going up by as much as 16 points in the first half before eventually falling, 88-78.
Wittman paced the Red with 33 points, while the Red shot 43 percent from the field, including going 13-of-29 shooting from 3-point range. Sophomore standout Johnny Flynn led the Orange with 24 points and six assists on over 50 percent shooting, and former high school teammate Paul Harris was right behind Flynn with 21 points and nine rebounds.
[img_assist|nid=34009|title=Gunning for the win|desc=Junior Ryan Wittman (20) opened scoring last night with a 3, one of nine to finish with 33 points, but the Orange pulled ahead in the second half.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“In general,” said Red head coach Steve Donahue, “I was extremely proud of how we played, how tough we were, how we competed on the boards with obviously a very athletic basketball team.”
While the Red’s performance kept Cornell fans’ hopes alive, it was the free throw line and full court pressure that kept Syracuse within striking range. With as much as eight minutes left in the first half, the Red was already in the penalty and the Orange would use that to get 12 points from the line in the first half. Down 33-19, the Orange used its full court pressure to force quick shots and turnovers, which eventually got them back in the game. Syracuse was able to recover from the Red’s initial blow, as the visitors were up 45-40 at the half.
“We were fortunate, when we were down 16 and we got into our press,” said long-time Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. “And we got something out of our press, we got some turnovers and forced them to take a couple of quick shots and we got back in it. It could have been a 14-point deficit at halftime.”
“We really wanted to come out strong,” Wittman said. “They started to pressure us and we turned the ball over a little bit, more than we usually do. That’s the disappointing thing. … We weren’t being strong with the ball and it led to a lot of fast breaks and that’s why that team is good.”
The Red’s hot shooting did cool off in the second stanza, but it was Syracuse’s propensity of getting into the lane and the line that fueled their offensive output. Syracuse would go on to shoot 75 percent from the field in the second half thanks to a handful of steals that would lead to breaks to the hoop on the other end.
“We hurt ourselves by fouling,” Donahue said. “Just a couple of one-and-ones, three of four of them. We wanted to stay away from that, and we didn’t. When you play a team as talented as this team on their home court, its going to comeback to haunt you.”
The easy buckets pushed the Orange into a 13-2 run that would give them a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. Even with 3:18 left on the clock, however, the Red was within striking range. The Orange repeatedly found ways to get to the free throw line while the defense tightened on Wittman, holding him to two baskets in the last seven minutes of the game.
The Red was somewhat upbeat after the game. Having the No. 20 ranked Orange down by 16 and threatening to upset can serve as momentum going into the latter part of the season, a la last season’s encouraging loss to Duke. Again without the services off its all-Ivy backcourt, junior Geoff Reeves and Chris Wroblewski have continued to improve. The new backcourt combo went a combined 9-for-20 from the field totaling 24 points. Wroblewski also added four assists and didn’t give up his first and only turnover until late in the second half.
“Cornell is obviously better with those two guys they are missing, but the guys who took their place are really good players,” Boeheim said. “Reeves is a very good player and their point guard did a real good job.”
“Unfortunately, these are learning experiences especially when your short-handed,” Donahue said. “Hopefully you can learn from all these things and it makes you better. … We played extremely well and that’s what I expect us. I am excited, not that we lost. But my vision for this basketball team is that we are going to be a pretty good team in about two months.”