February 14, 2010

Freaky Friday Leads to Wild Weekend for Men’s Basketball

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PRINCETON, N.J. –– Following Friday night’s shocking loss to Penn, head coach Steve Donahue explained that his players had been through situations like this before, and he was confident that they would bounce back and be ready to compete against the Tigers.

Well, bounce back is exactly what Cornell did, upping its performance and hanging on for a close 48-45 win over Princeton (14-6, 5-1 Ivy) Saturday night at Jadwin Gym. Just as the Quakers had done to the Red the day before, Cornell derailed Princeton’s bid for a perfect Ivy season and ensured that no team would be going undefeated in the Ancient Eight. Besides restoring a sense of normalcy to the college basketball world, Saturday’s win also provided Cornell (21-4, 7-1 Ivy) with sole possession of first place in the conference.

“We couldn’t wait to get back on the court,” said senior forward Ryan Wittman. “Sometimes that’s the good thing about this league, when you get a game right after [a loss like that]. I know a lot of us probably had some sleepless nights. We were just anxious to get back out here and play hard.”

Looking to erase any hint of déjà vu, the Red cruised to an early 8-0 lead thanks to consecutive short jumpers from senior center Jeff Foote and a driving layup by sophomore guard Chris Wroblewski. However, it was the Tigers who managed to impose their style of play throughout the full 40 minutes; the game was slow, physical and low-scoring, which in turn magnified the importance of every possession. Cornell ultimately proved it was up to the challenge, though that’s not to say both halves weren’t highly-contested and intense.

The Red saw its early advantage erased following a 3-pointer by junior guard Dan Mavraides that knotted the score at 10 apiece. However, Cornell was quick to reestablish its lead as senior forward Ryan Wittman and senior guard “Louie” Dale (as the Princeton announcer took to calling him) netted back-to-back layups before senior guard Geoff Reeves –– who celebrated his birthday on Friday –– converted both free throw attempts.

With 1:20 to play in the first half, Kareem Maddox responded to a Wittman layup with one of his own, but senior tri-captain Alex Tyler blocked the junior forward’s ensuing attempt at a jumper to send both teams into the locker room with Cornell holding a three-point lead, 24-21.

“I thought we guarded their stuff for long stretches, and when we needed to execute I thought we did a terrific job,” Donahue said. “Both teams hustled … there was a physicality to the game.”

Although the Red shot 50.0 percent for the first half, notably absent for the second-straight game was the 3-pointer: Cornell made only four attempts from outside in the opening 20 minutes, and came up empty each time.

Wroblewski provided the Red’s first trey of the game to open the second half, but the Tigers pulled even at 27 with 16:46 to play after sophomore guard Douglas Davis sank two free throws. Princeton secured its first lead of the game, 30-28, on a Davis 3-pointer. Davis, who scored 18 of his game-high 20 points in the second half, was responsible for keeping his team alive, draining several clutch 3’s with time winding down on the shot clock.

Both squads traded leads back-and-forth, and for the second night in a row, tensions were running high on both sides as a tussle between Tyler and freshman guard Marcus Schroeder resulted in both players being awarded technical fouls.

The moment had the necessary effect, however, as Wittman picked the opportune time to drain his first 3-pointer of the game to put Cornell ahead, 44-38, with 1:38 to play.

“[Ryan] stepped up when we really needed him, took us on his back for a little bit,” Donahue said. “That’s his job, his responsibility … when we really need something, it’s his job to go out and get it. He just makes plays.”

However, even that didn’t leave much room to breathe, as Davis reciprocated with his third trey of the half and followed with a jumper to narrow the Red’s lead to one, 44-43, with 24 seconds left to play.

However, both Dale and Wittman stepped up to the free throw line and delivered, combining for four points down the stretch before the Red defense forced Davis to put up an awkward-looking 3 at the buzzer that hit the rim and bounced off, preserving the win for Cornell.

The Red shot 45.2 percent for the game but managed only 2-of-8 from beyond the arc; admittedly, one of those two was Wittman’s huge 3-pointer that made all the difference with less than two minutes to play. The visitors held Princeton to 36.4 percent overall, and held the advantage in rebounds, 30-24.

Original Author: Alex Kuczynski-Brown