To the casual observer, Cornell’s 88-70 victory at Dartmouth Saturday night marked a single-season record of 23 wins. To others, it might represent another shooting clinic held by senior forward Ryan Wittman, who led all scorers with 23 points and five buckets from beyond the arc. However, Cornell’s victory coupled with Princeton’s surprising loss to fifth-place Brown signifies an advantage for the Red entering the final two weeks of the campaign. The Red now enjoys a two-game lead in the win column over the Tigers in its quest to three-peat as Ivy League champion.
“When we had that first media timeout, we kind of regrouped and refocused our energy on the defensive end,” Wittman said. “That’s a big key for us. If we’re getting stops that can really lead into our offense a lot of times and give us some looks in transition. We just hit those two 3’s and it got us off on the right foot.”
Those “two 3’s” that Wittman referenced were courtesy of senior guard Geoff Reeves, who came off the bench and turned in another yeoman’s effort. Reeves finished the contest with nine points on 3-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc.
“I think everyone knows he shoots the ball extremely well,” Wittman said. “You can’t really leave him open or he’ll knock it down, but the other things he does well don’t really show up in the box score. He comes off the bench and brings great energy. On the offensive end he had a couple of tip-ups for offensive rebounds that led to 3-pointers. Things like that other people might not recognize, but as a team we appreciate what he brings to the table.”
Cornell entered the break with a 44-21 lead, shooting nearly 70 percent from the field. In the first half, Wittman recorded 18 points in 17 minutes and drained 4-of-6 shots from downtown.
Despite surrendering 49 points to the Green in the second stanza, the Red’s lead never fell below 17 points. Cornell’s advantage swelled to 67-38 with 12:01 remaining in regulation, prompting head coach Steve Donahue to empty his entire bench in the second half. Freshman forward Errick Peck turned in another impressive performance during his inaugural campaign, shooting a perfect five-for-five from the field, notching a career-high 14 points along with two rebounds and two steals. Senior guard Louis Dale also tallied 14 points and senior center Jeff Foote contributed 10 points.
“Playing with Ryan Wittman, Jeff Foote and Louis Dale has taught me a lot of things about the transition from high school to college basketball,” Peck said. “I think just from working with them and having them push me during practice, I’ve become more comfortable within my own game. Then, when they’re on the floor, they’re starting to have more confidence in me.
“I really didn’t expect to be starting or anything of that matter, but I did expect to help the team win basketball games and bring what I can bring to the table in order to make us a better team as a whole,” Peck added.
It was not until the Red entered the postgame locker room that the team learned of Princeton’s setback. Cornell stretched its lead to 1 1/2 games over the second-ranked Tigers, who travel to Ithaca this Friday. However, the Red must remain vigilant according to Wittman.
“It doesn’t really change what we have to do,” Wittman said. “We still have to come out and have a great week of practice here. [Princeton’s] loss doesn’t really affect what we have to do. It’s not like we expect to rely on the breathing room and can take games off. I think we learned that lesson at Penn. We still have to bring tons of energy and compete on every possession.”
Cornell’s weekend sweep snapped the previous single-season record of 22 victories set by the 2007-08 squad, which captured the program’s first conference crown in 20 years.
“This is probably the best team that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Wittman, a four-year starter. “I just think we have a lot of experience, which lets us be successful, especially in the non-conference portion of the schedule when we got a lot of wins and had a lot of close games. We’ve really been playing well together, which is a big reason why we’ve been so successful this year.”
Original Author: Matthew Manacher