The two-time defending Ivy League champion men’s basketball team made its first move towards a coveted three-peat, downing state rival Columbia, 74-53, at Newman Arena on Jan. 16 in the conference opener for both squads.
“I knew this game would be hard-fought, rough,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “I thought we answered it with toughness, and also intelligence as well.”
Senior center Jeff Foote posted his sixth double-double of the season –– a 12-point, 10-rebound effort –– while senior forward Ryan Wittman and sophomore guard Chris Wroblewski led both teams with 13 points apiece.
In a game that senior guard Louis Dale acknowledged was the team’s best defensive performance of the season, the Red managed to hold the Lions to just 36.8 shooting and 2-of-10 from beyond the arc. Although undoubtedly helped by the fact that Columbia was missing senior All-Ivy guard Patrick Foley –– out with injury –– Cornell still had to contend with the nation’s leader in 3-point percentage, Noruwa Agho. Agho proved a non-issue, however, as the Red defense held the Lions’ top scorer to just seven points –– well below his 18.1 ppg. average –– without even a 3-point attempt.
“We wanted to come out real aggressive on defense,” Foote said. “We knew it was going to be a tough challenge, especially our first Ivy League game –– we have the targets on our back. We [know] everybody [is] coming to beat us.”
Wroblewski got things started for Cornell, scoring his team’s first eight points and knocking down back-to-back treys. Senior forward Jon Jaques then made it 10-2 in favor of the Red on a fastbreak layup resulting from his first of two steals on the day. Senior guard Geoff Reeves would contribute a 3 of his own three minutes later following a steal by Dale, and a quick layup by freshman forward Errick Peck off an inbounds pass from Wroblewski had the home team on top, 16-5.
“[Wroblewski] was critical for us today, especially at the beginning of the game,” Foote said. “He really set the tone for our team, and he’s developing into a pretty good leader.”
Although the Lions manufactured a mini 11-3 run that brought them within eight, it was quickly silenced by a Dale layup on a well-executed behind-the-back pass from Foote. With less than a minute remaining in the half, Wittman drained his second trey to put him in double-figures, and Reeves converted a 3-point play to hand Cornell a 39-21 advantage heading into the locker room. Columbia managed just one assist on eight baskets and committed nine turnovers in the first 20 minutes, compared to eight assists and five turnovers on the Red’s side.
“We really wanted to focus in so that we [could] play defense, and we really did that tonight … that’s something we have to keep improving on. It should be a strong point of our team,” said Dale, who notched seven points, four assists, four steals and three rebounds in 21 minutes of action.
Donahue echoed this sentiment: “Since the new year, this is our sixth game in a row holding teams under 40 or less, and it’s been a wide variety of teams; it’s been Division III’s, it’s been the [then] No. 1 team in the country, it’s been a couple Division I’s. … I think we’re very good defensively, but for us to win another championship, it’s got to be that way consistently.”
Jaques opened the second frame with a 3 to ensure that momentum would remain on the Red’s side, as Columbia found itself unable to stop the bleeding. Cornell’s lead swelled to as much as 32 on an Adam Wire free throw with 7:15 to play before both teams emptied their benches.
An integral part of the team’s practice sessions, the Red freshmen had the opportunity to take the court and earn valuable game-time experience, while junior guard Max Groebe came off the bench and sunk two 3’s in the final four minutes as Cornell cruised to a 74-53 victory –– extending its Ivy League home win streak to 16 games.
The defending conference champions shot 46.2 percent overall in a game that featured scoring from 11 different Red players. The team also collected a season-high 13 steals in the winning effort.
Original Author: Alex Kuczynski-Brown