February 21, 2010

Boston Massacre

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. –– While a nine-point game might not warrant the designation “massacre,” the actual Boston Massacre, in reality, hardly constituted a massacre, either. On Friday night, however, the men’s basketball team effectively “massacred” Harvard’s bid for an Ivy League title, downing the Crimson, 79-70, in front of a sold-out crowd at Lavietes Pavilion that included 14 NBA scouts and national media the likes of ESPN and Fox Sports.

In a matchup of vying Ivy League Player of the Year candidates, Cornell’s Ryan Wittman and Harvard’s Jeremy Lin lived up to their billing, putting up 27 and 24 points on the board to lead their respective teams. However, it was Wittman, with the help of classmate Louis Dale, who stole the show –– draining 6-of-12 from beyond the arc while grabbing a season-high eight rebounds and adding two blocks. The senior forward also became the first Ivy League player in history to tally 350 career 3-pointers.

“I think [Ryan] just played with a nastiness, a confidence, a swagger … that he wouldn’t want his team to lose in this environment,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “We play a very good team game; I think we share the ball well, but there’s times where he has to do what he did [on Friday night].”

“In transition [Ryan is] always sprinting the floor, so when I’m dribbling, coming up I’m always looking for him; I know he’s going to be ready,” said Dale, who scored 20 points –– 12 from outside –– and contributed five assists. “I think we kind of have that chemistry together, playing over the course of four years. Especially coming off screens, he’s always ready to shoot.”

Wittman was quick to interject: “Let me just say that Lou does most of the work there. It’s easy to shoot the open jumper when he attracts the defense like that.”

After back-to-back games against Penn and Princeton in which the 3-pointer was noticeably absent, Cornell drilled 12 treys against Harvard –– matching last weekend’s combined total –– to give the Red 245, a new single-season record. The visitors made 12-of-23 from beyond the arc en route to shooting 50.0 percent overall for the game. While the Crimson only connected on 2-of-10 from long distance, the home team still managed a 48.6 percent shooting night.

Although the first lead of the game belonged to Harvard thanks to a Lin layup and three consecutive free throws from freshman forward Kyle Casey, freshman forward Errick Peck handed Cornell an advantage it would not relinquish with 11:42 to play in the half.

The previous two meetings between these teams in Cambridge culminated in one-point wins for each side. Both times, Wittman acknowledged, the Crimson was able to get out to an 8-10 point lead, forcing the Red to fight its way back into the game. He mentioned that was a point of emphasis in the locker room this time around –– “just trying to get out to an early lead right away.”

Cornell was able to do just that, as its lead swelled to as much as 11 with 2:09 to play after a steal by senior guard Geoff Reeves led to Wittman’s fourth 3-pointer of the half. Both teams went into the locker room with the Red on top by nine, 43-34, and although the Crimson fans changed their shirts from white to black, the symbolic gesture wasn’t enough to help Harvard’s cause.

With just over 12 minutes remaining, Dale knocked down his third trey in a row to give Cornell its largest lead of the game at 61-44. However, the Crimson would go on a 12-0 run –– capped by a Christian Webster 3-pointer –– to pull within five with 8:24 to play. Donahue promptly called a timeout, during which he told his team, “This is a gut-check, here you go –– you’ve got yourselves a game.”

“That’s something that a good team is going to do,” Wittman added. “Harvard’s a good team, they’re going to cut that lead down. You know a team’s going to make a run, it’s how you respond to it.”

Respond to it is exactly what Cornell did, as Wittman and Dale hit back-to-back dagger 3’s to quell all notions of a Harvard comeback.

Donahue acknowledged after the game that the whistle wasn’t going the Red’s way throughout –– a trend made all the more complicated by the fact that the Crimson turned in a remarkable 32-of-34 performance from the free throw line.

However, Cornell’s coach mentioned that he would rather his players have to cope with contentious calls, than display the passiveness that cost them the game against Penn a week ago.

“I told them, ‘We’re not going to lose this in any way by not being aggressive,’” Donahue said.

“We found out against Penn, any given night, if you don’t bring it you can get a loss,” Wittman added. “There’s pressure in every game, obviously, but it’s not like there’s added pressure after that.”

Cornell’s veteran presence on court might very well have been what made all the difference in Friday’s matchup. While Harvard started two freshmen and a sophomore, Donahue admitted that his team was undoubtedly helped by the hundreds of games the Red seniors have played together.

“I think we stayed poised and confident … [and] when we needed big plays, the two guys sitting here [Wittman and Dale] made them,” Donahue said.

Original Author: Alex Kuczynski-Brown