February 13, 2009

Men’s Basketball Continues Ivy Play At Home Against Harvard, Dartmouth

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Early in the men’s basketball team’s season — after Harvard’s win over then-No. 17 Boston College and midway through Dartmouth’s 2-12 start — it seemed like the Crimson was poised to make a run at the top of the Ivy League. However, when both teams travel to East Hill this weekend, it will be Dartmouth coming in with the 4-2 record, a mirror image to Harvard’s 2-4 start.
Cornell, at 5-1 in Ivy play (15-7), sits one spot ahead of third-place Dartmouth in the League standings. The Red had its 19-game Ivy winning streak snapped last weekend, but still holds a 17-game streak at home that it will look to protect first against the Crimson tonight and the Green tomorrow.
The Red is coming off a weekend split, dropping a 61-41 decision to Princeton before downing Penn 88-73.[img_assist|nid=35086|title=Can’t stop me now|desc=Men’s basketball hopes to rebound after losing their its Ivy League game in 20 games last weekend against Princeton.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“[When] we can be good on offense, we can get our defense set because we’re getting good looks and makes,” he said. “That helps your defense. I think a lot of that has to do with our success at times, and I think we did it at Penn. We ran great offense at Penn. Obviously, we didn’t do a great job at Princeton.”
Despite having a top-25 recruiting class, Harvard has relied heavily on its upperclassmen this season. Junior guard Jeremy Lin has played perhaps as well as anyone in the Ivy League thus far, averaging 19.0 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game, 4.9 assists per game and 2.8 steals per game — all among the top of the conference leader boards.
According to Donahue, however, Harvard is a team with multiple weapons on offense, meaning Cornell cannot key in on any one player. One-by-one, he remembered other veteran Crimson players who have the potential to do damage in various ways. Drew Housman and Andrew Pusar can knock down 3s, Evan Harris can score on the block. All are seniors and have pitched in to make Harvard’s offense more balanced than it had been during the non-conference schedule, when Lin carried much of the load due to some injuries.
“It’s a little deceptive, [Lin’s] scoring totals,” Donahue said. “When you go in the Ivy League, it’s much more balanced. … So I think you have to do as good as you can on Jeremy. Everybody has to do it, not just the guy guarding him. You have to play solid team defense because they have other guys that can hurt you.”
While Harvard threatens in a multitude of ways on offense, the squad has struggled at times of defense. The Crimson has the worst scoring defense in the Ancient Eight (71.7 points per game) and the second worst field goal percentage defense (49.4 percent).
However, Donahue attributed much of this to a lack of post presence as a knee injury to Harris forced Harvard to throw freshman Peter Boehm into the fold. With Harris back, the Crimson inherits not only a veteran defender, but a back-to-the-basket scorer and post passer.
“[Harris] can get to the foul line,” Donahue said. “And he can pass out there. So it just gives them a low post presence that maybe they haven’t had for the first couple of months here. … [Boehm’s] more of a two-guard. So that’s been part of the problem [defensively]. The other problem is that they’ve been playing a lot of minutes. Now I think their defense will continue to get better.”
While some healed injuries have allowed Harvard to regain some balance, Dartmouth will come to Ithaca tomorrow night with an offense as reliant on one player as perhaps any in the Ivy League.
Sophomore Alex Barnett leads the Ancient Eight in scoring at 19.3 points per game. More importantly, he leads the Green in virtually every statistical category — points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, field goals attempted and made, 3-pointers attempted and made and free throws attempted and made.
“The biggest thing is [Barnett’s] able to shoot the 3 [this year],” Donahue said of Barnett’s 42.1 percent 3-point accuracy. “[Last year], you were kind of able to lay off of him last year and it was almost nice if he tried a 3. But now it’s such a high percentage shot for him. He’s very confident with his perimeter game and so now once you get up on him, he uses his length. It’s hard for a bigger guy to stay with him with his quickness, and it’s hard for a smaller guy because of his ability to shoot over you.”
The Green, picked to finish seventh in the preseason media poll, has vaulted to the top half of the Ivy League by clawing out some close victories. The squad took two overtime wins over Harvard and Yale, and tight wins over both Yale and Penn. Still, Dartmouth has seen some volatility this season, starting 11 players in at least one game.
“The reason they’re playing well is that they’re just working for a good shot. … They go through Alex and if they don’t have one, they’re going to give it to another guy. … No one’s trying anything they can’t do. If teams over-help on Alex, they’re moving the ball and finding the open guy.”