On the eve of what many analysts dubbed the “sexiest” college basketball game of the weekend, Cornell managed to stay focused and soundly took care of business against Dartmouth on Friday night, routing the Green 71-37 at Newman Arena.
It may not have been the prettiest game statistically –– particularly in the first half, where the Red shot just 37.0 percent overall –– but another outstanding defensive effort was all the team needed to remain undefeated in the Ivy League and extend its conference home win streak to 16 games.
“The defense has been good for about a month now almost,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “We’re sliding, moving our feet, making them shoot over us … yet at the same time I thought we were very aggressive.”
“It’s something we’ve been working on all week –– just playing 40 minutes of defense. I think we did that tonight,” said senior forward Ryan Wittman.
Junior guard Max Groebe led both teams with a career-high 15 points off the bench, which took over in the second half and effectively maintained the pressure, never allowing Dartmouth to pull within 31. Also joining Groebe in double figure scoring were Wittman and senior guard Louis Dale, who chipped in 12 and 10, respectively. No one from Dartmouth reached double-digit point totals, with sophomore forward David Rufful and junior guard Ronnie Dixon leading the charge for the Green with five apiece.
Cornell cruised to a 7-0 lead to open the contest, powered by back-to-back 3-pointers from senior tri-captain Jon Jaques and sophomore guard Chris Wroblewski. Although the Red entered the locker room with a 14-point halftime advantage –– all but quelling any hope of a Dartmouth comeback –– Cornell was marred by an inability to capitalize on many open looks in the first 20 minutes, resulting in an uncharacteristically low field goal percentage.
“I think sometimes we’re not used to being so open … five or six I thought we could have clearly knocked down in the first half,” Donahue said.
“Sometimes you get games like that –– we had a lot of looks in the first half, but that’s why playing defense is so important,” Wittman added. “Your offense isn’t always going to be clicking every game, but if you’re playing [good] defense every game, you’re still in it.”
Donahue also acknowledged that missing open shots doesn’t necessarily concern him, as it’s only “a matter of time” before they drop in, which they eventually did in the second half. Cornell upped its percentage to 62.5 in the final 20 minutes and drained 6-of-11 treys –– three of which were courtesy of Groebe.
The Red shot 49.0 percent for the game and out-rebounded the Green 41-31. Cornell also posted a 17-17 assist-turnover ratio, compared to Dartmouth’s 8-16.
Despite the home team’s stellar defensive effort on the night, senior center Jeff Foote acknowledged that there remains room for improvement.
“I think we have some stuff we can do better … defensive rebound a little bit more. We gave up a couple open shots that we normally wouldn’t have,” said Foote, who finished with four points, four rebounds, two assists and six blocks –– one shy of matching his career-high.
“We have the physicality, the depth to be way better defensively than we’ve been in the past,” added Donahue.
Original Author: Alex Kuczynski-Brown