BOISE, Idaho — Shots did not fall fast or accurately enough for No. 14 seed Cornell as it was bounced out of the first round of the NCAA tournament by No. 3 Missouri, 78-59, Friday afternoon.
Going into halftime, the Red was only down by four after shooting 31 percent from the floor. With such a small deficit and the reputation coming into the tournament as one of the better shooting teams, the Red seemed to have a chance for the upset. Missouri’s adjustments to the Red’s varying defenses and strong inside play by the Tigers eventually led to Cornell’s loss, however. Tigers’ senior forward Leo Lyons led all scorers with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Senior DeMarre Carroll added 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Junior Ryan Wittman shook off a shaky first half to finish with a team-high 18 points.[img_assist|nid=36132|title=A force on the glass|desc=Center Jeff Foote (1) pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds in Cornell’s loss to Missouri.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
The Red lost its chance at an upset in part because of the way the Tigers came out of the gate swinging in the final 20 minutes. Missouri outscored the Red 49-34 in the second half. The opportunity to go into halftime with a lead was hurt substantially by the Red’s numerous missed shots early on. The two-time Ivy League champions went 10-of-32 from the field in the first half.
“I thought that the game was probably lost for us in the first half,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “Where I thought we played extremely well defensively, took care of the ball, and then shots that we normally make, we didn’t.”
“It was kind of disappointing to play a half like that and not knock the shots down,” Wittman said. “But it was there. We were going out in the second half saying if we play that same type of half and shoot the ball better, we’re going to be in great shape.”
The Tigers hit their first 12-of-22 shots in the second half. Lyons was a problem for the Red in both the first and second half. In the last stretch of the first 20 minutes, he scored seven of his nine first-half points, highlighted by an alley-oop and multiple fast break dunks. He continued to be a cause for concern for Cornell in the second half, scoring 14 more points and grabbing a total of 10 rebounds, four of them offensive boards.
“We had a little quickness advantage when it came to the rebounding,” Lyons said. “I tried to stay close to the rim and get a lot of the loose balls.”
“When he misses his shot, he has the ability to chase it down,” Donahue said. “He does it against all competition. That’s what makes him really good.”
Even with Lyons’ rebounding prowess, however, Cornell won the rebounding battle by three, 40-37. And despite much hype about Missouri’s tough press, the Red only had nine turnovers, including just three in the first half. The press actually helped create scoring opportunities for the Red as the team used its passing abilities to find the open man in the frontcourt.
“I thought we did a good job with [the press],” said junior forward Alex Tyler. “We had a lot of passing through all the pressure that they put on and I think overall we did a good job.”
Unfortunately for the Red, the job wasn’t good enough as the team fell in the first round of the Tournament for the second year in a row. Despite the loss, the Red felt better about its performance when compared to last year’s defeat to Stanford. With a majority of the team coming back next season, the Red will be looking to not just return to the Big Dance but also actually earn a first round victory by this time next year.
“We’re going to try to win our league again,” Donahue said. “We’re going to challenge ourselves in the preseason, we’re going to try to get to this stage again and we’re going to try to win.”