February 16, 2009

Red Sneaks by Dartmouth in Double Overtime Win

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[img_assist|nid=35152|title=Head down|desc=The men’s basketball team won a thriller in Hanover, N.H., against Dartmouth, 79-76. The game was the Red’s first double overtime since Feb 2006.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“I’ve been in the league 19 years,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “I don’t take any win lightly, and that was a huge win for our program.”
Cornell built up a 19-point lead, 48-29, only to see the Green whittle it away with a 15-0 run over 5:13 in the second half. With the game tied, 61-61, junior point guard Louis Dale popped it out to junior Ryan Wittman, who had an open look from the 3-point line as time expired in regulation, but the shot didn’t fall.
“At the end of regulation, we execute a great play,” Donahue said. “[Dale] stays poised. He kicks it out to [Wittman], he has a wide-open look. He didn’t rush it, it just goes in and out.”
While the Red struggled on offense early in the game, Dartmouth seemed to settle into a rhythm as soon as the Green hit the court — high-scoring forward Alex Barnett, who led both teams with 22 points, got the first basket of the game off a Cornell turnover.
“We knew he was going to take a lot of shots and he was going to score points,” said junior Geoff Reeves. “All we could do was contest the shots.”
The Red, on the other hand, was rushing on offense and struggling especially in transition. Cornell was trailing third-place Dartmouth until about the halfway mark of the first period.
The home team wasn’t making it look pretty, but the Red held the Green to 29 percent shooting in the first half and went into halftime with an 11-point lead, 34-23. Putting two point guards on the floor at the same time — Dale and freshman Chris Wroblewski — as part of a strategy to use a smaller lineup gave the Red a definite spark on offense.
“Chris has played well all weekend,” Donahue said, “and then we started going with [Reeves] and [Wittman] just to handle the ball because we were struggling against their ball pressure. I just thought we needed another ball-handler out there.”
Though he finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, senior center Jeff Foote struggled from the field, Stymied by the Dartmouth defense and having trouble holding onto the ball when under pressure, Foote went 1-for-2 in the first half.
Barnett came out firing after the break, putting two points on the board within the first 11 seconds of the second half. And fittingly, it was Barnett who knotted the score at 61 with 35 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.
Two extra periods later, after exchanging the lead several times, two very different players carried the Red to victory.
Calmly making two foul shots, the rookie Wroblewski put Cornell ahead, 75-73, with 2:21 left in the game. The point guard, who finished with nine points, then notched two steals within a span of 23 seconds.
Clinging to the two-point lead, the Red turned to the previously-struggling Foote to seal the win.
“I didn’t want to settle for a 3 to win this game,” Donahue said. “[Foote] made huge foul shots after he had struggled with a couple of them, and it made sense to get him down there, to let them go one-on-one, and to his credit he came up with two big plays.”
After Cornell used its last timeout, the squad worked the ball around to Foote, whose jumper put the Red ahead, 77-73. It was a load off the senior’s mind to have some success.
“It was a frustrating game, I didn’t shoot well from the field,” he said, “but I knew I had it and went with it, and when I made it I was pretty relieved.”
It didn’t hurt the Red that two of the Green’s top scorers off the bench, Ronnie Dixon (14 points) and Elgin Fitzgerald (12 points) fouled out in the first overtime.
Fitzgerald got his final foul against Foote, but he missed both shots. Also after fouling Foote, Dixon had to leave the game next. This time, the Red center made his free throws to put the Red up, 69-67.
“[Fitzgerald] was the big one that I noticed because he was guarding me,” Foote said, “but it was good to get them out of the game. They were potential threats.”
Reeves, a 3-point specialist, proved himself to be a different kind of threat as well. The play wasn’t set up for him, but the junior got a dunk to give the Red a light at the end of the tunnel.
“I saw my guy just completely leave me,” Foote said, “so I went to Reeves and caught the ball, and I saw Geoff’s guy come up to me and [Reeves] started cutting and I knew nobody was back there, so I gave him the ball and he got so excited he almost dropped it.”
Dartmouth’s David Rufful, however, tied it up again at 71-71 with 16 seconds remaining in the overtime — sending the Red to its first double-overtime game since Feb. 17, 2006.
“I felt pretty confident that we were going to pull it out,” Reeves said. “We have a veteran group. There are a lot of juniors and seniors on our team.”
That experience came in handy. Compared to the Dartmouth’s 61.5 percent shooting at game’s end, Cornell shot 81.8 percent overall from the charity stripe and 87.5 percent in overtime.
“It’s a very balanced league,” Donahue said. “We may be better, but we’re not that much better. We need to play well to win. I thought we made foul shots when we had to, we made tough plays when we had to, and [Dartmouth] made great play after great play, and they deserve a lot of credit as well.”
Cornell also had good luck with results from around the league, as Princeton — the only Ivy team that has beaten the Red, lost tonight to Brown.
“It’s nice to know that we can play down the stretch,” Foote said. “We’re kind of in control of the Ivy League right now, and we want to keep it that way.”