Most of the men’s basketball game Saturday night was just a formality. In fact, most of the weekend was. The Red finished off a weekend sweep in historic fashion Saturday night with a 64-36 win over Yale.
Cornell played stellar defense, burned Yale in transition and expertly moved the ball on offense throughout the contest. The 28-point win brought the Red’s combined margin of victory from its two weekend matchups to 60. It was the biggest combined margin of victory for Cornell since the Ivy League’s inception in 1956.
[img_assist|nid=34639|title=The playmaker|desc=Junior guard Louis Dale (12), seen here in the Red’s 64-36 win over Yale on Saturday, finished the weekend with 33 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Yale (7-11, 2-2 Ivy) did not break the 20 percent mark shooting until garbage time, and only connected on its first 3 with just over two minutes left. The Red (13-6, 4-0 Ivy) rotated well, crowded the Bulldog’s scorers, and kept penetration to a minimum. Not a single Yale player reached double figures.
“We’re getting better defensively,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “I think we’re playing more bodies, so we’re staying fresher. … Basically we cover the principles, and we did that exceptionally well tonight. [We] were just locked in.”
Yale’s top-3 scorers — Ross Morin, Alex Zampier and Travis Pinick — made little impact on the game, combining for 11 points on 4-of-25 shooting. Zampier — who was met with chants of “air ball” after badly missing an early shot — never recovered and finished 0-for-8 from the floor.
“On Zampier for instance, we can’t let him come off those staggers and get an open look,” Donahue said of the squad’s strategy. “Pinik is a great penetrator and you have to make sure you build a wall.”
“We wanted to crowd [Morin] and take away his space,” senior center Jeff Foote said. “He shoots a lot and is a great shooter. The more shots he gets up the more he’s going to hurt you. So we wanted to limit his shots.”
Cornell used its defensive prowess to get out in transition and push the ball. Donahue credited the Bulldogs for rotating well on the Red, but noted that the pace set by junior Louis Dale and freshman Chris Wroblewski, sharing ball-handling duties, that kept Yale from setting up its staunch half-court defense.
“I think it’s hard for teams to guard us in transition,” Dale said. “When they’re scrambling, they don’t know where our shooters are. Meanwhile, you have the point guard coming up and he can attack or do whatever. And I think our bigs run the court very well. We can kick it ahead to them and they can finish.”
The Red used this formula to pull away in the first half. After grinding out a deliberate 11 minutes to start the game, the team started to push the ball, already leading 12-7. Junior Geoff Reeves attacked the hoop, throwing up a scoop around his defender that Foote tip-slammed home. Then Dale beat his man down the court off a rebound and Foote cleaned up Dale’s off-balance miss in the lane. The next time down, Dale fed it to senior forward Alex Tyler rolling toward the basket, who left it for Foote, the trailer.
When the dust had settled, Foote had nine straight points on put backs, layups and dunks, and the Red had opened up a double-digit lead, 21-11.
“I thought Louis again, his ability to just drive the ball [was important],” Donahue said. “Especially early on when they were pressuring us I thought we took advantage of the full court stuff.”
For all of Dale’s prowess directing traffic, it was Foote who got the ball in the basket, finishing with a game-high 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Dale had 10 points and a team-high six boards.
“Foote covers up a ton of mistakes that we have, defensively and offensively, Donahue said. “He is just a resource that we can use. On offense, we can throw it in to him, which is rare that you can just get it to a big man and then everyone calms down and we run our offense. On the defensive end he rotates so well, and stands there and he’s such a hard guy to shoot over. Tonight, he was able to get the ball and put it back in.”
While the Red did set up Foote on the block frequently, he did not have much success scoring with his back to the basket. Instead, he was effective in starting the ball movement, which was crisp and effective all night in creating open looks.
“We did a great job beating them to the ball and executing in the first half,” Donahue said. “I thought they rotated well [on defense], they were on to us. But I thought we made the extra pass when we had to.”
On one play, junior Ryan Wittman dished the ball from the top of the key to the left wing. Several passes later, it had gone into the corner, under the basket, and around the horn back to Wittman who nailed a 3 from the right wing.
“We’ve been working on it in practice — pushing the ball ahead and making sure the defense is moving side to side,” Dale said. “If we get the ball moving quickly, we can attack. I think that’s helping us out right now.”
When Wittman hit a 3 leaning to his right at the buzzer at halftime, it seemed to be the nail in the coffin already, with Cornell leading 34-13. Wittman pumped his fist and let out a yell while his teammates headed for the locker room.
Yale’s 13 first-half points were close to the record-low 11 that Columbia tallied against Cornell in the first half of a 2001 matchup.
The second half was mostly waiting around to see how few points the Bulldogs would score and what the Red’s margin of victory would be. With just over nine minutes remaining, Donahue emptied his bench for the second night in a row, comfortable with a 55-20 lead.
A small run toward the end helped Yale avoid setting a record for fewest points scored against Cornell, finishing just one above the mark.
“Our defense is winning games for us right now,” Dale. “We’re playing solid ‘D’ and offense comes easier for us when we play great defense.”