February 25, 2010

The End of an Era

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This weekend Cornell’s all-time leading scorer, Ryan Wittman, and all-time assists leader, Louis Dale, will take to the hardwood at Newman Arena for the final time. Nevertheless, this is not the time for sentimental farewell sendoffs. This year’s senior class has attained unparalleled success in program history, but the Red still has some unfinished business left to take care of in its quest to three-peat as Ivy League champions.

Tonight’s contest against Princeton will play a pivotal role in deciding the Ancient Eight champion. Though the chances are remote, Cornell can clinch the title this weekend with a sweep accompanied by a Princeton loss at Columbia tomorrow night and at least one Harvard loss to either Brown or Yale. All a team can hope for at this point in the season is to control its own destiny. The Red is undeniably in the driver’s seat. However, if the Tigers win tonight and both Princeton and Cornell win out, then a one-game playoff scenario will take place at a neutral site to determine the Ivy League champion.

The Red tamed the Tigers two weeks ago in their home den, 48-45, to regain sole possession of first place. The 48 points were a season-low for Cornell, which has averaged 75.7 points per game this year. The Red expects another low-scoring contest as a result of Princeton’s deliberate pace on offense.

“Whenever you play Princeton, that’s how they play,” Dale said. “That’s their style of play to really grind it out. They’re tough and physical on every possession. They use the whole 35 seconds on the shot clock so the game is typically low-scoring. So, we’re coming in expecting it to be a tough game, and we’re going to have to grind it out.”

Princeton’s premiere threat has been sophomore guard Doug Davis, who registers 12.8 points per game and recorded a game-high 20 points the last time these two teams met. Davis scored 18 of those 20 points in the second half. Head coach Steve Donahue acknowledged Cornell must be aware of where Davis is on the court at all times.

“He does a great job when they don’t have something to run out of their offense,” Donahue said. “He creates stuff off of the dribble and uses ball screens. He played very well down there, especially at the end of the shot clock. … He’s a very good jump shooter. I think some people for whatever reason play off of him a little bit, but you must take away the shot first, make him drive it and look for help from his teammates.”

Cornell’s success from beyond the arc may also play a role in determining this weekend’s outcomes. Last weekend the Red shot a combined 56 percent (27-of-48) from 3-point land at Harvard and Dartmouth. Two weeks ago, the team struggled against Penn and Princeton, recording a combined 32 percent (12-of-37) from 3-point range. Despite shooting a season-low 25 percent from beyond the arc last time against the Tigers, Donahue attributes the poor long-range shooting to only taking eight attempts.

“There weren’t a lot of shots attempted in general, so maybe our percentage was still low, but not nearly as low as you would think because of the number of shots,” Donahue said. “We take what the teams give us. I think Princeton did a very good job of taking the 3 away. I thought we did a very good job of driving more in that game. We shot a pretty good percentage from the field. Obviously, we would love to get 3’s because that’s what we do. If they’re going to stay up on us, we’re going to hopefully drive it to the basket.”

When Cornell welcomes Penn tomorrow night, the Red will turn its attention to sophomore guard Zack Rosen, who averages a team-best 17.6 points per game, as well as 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds. During Penn’s upset win over Cornell, 79-64, at the Palestra, it was junior forward Jack Eggleston who notched a career-high 24 points. However, it was Rosen who proved to be the catalyst for Penn’s offense, recording 22 points, five assists and three steals.

“He’s playing so well,” Donahue said. “Not only is he scoring in the high 20’s, but he also [tallies a lot] of assists. He does so many things. …You have to hope to wear him down, constantly be on him, make him guard you, pick him up as much as you can and your teammates must rotate well. You just have to do a real good job on the ball because he’s crafty. If you start getting conservative and passive with him, he eats you up. I’d rather be the aggressor, making him really worry about the pressure rather than ‘who’s open and can I get to the rim.’ In the first game, we were probably a little too passive on the ball with him and he really hurt us.”

After a 10-game losing streak to open up the campaign, Penn has been playing improved basketball during the conference portion of its schedule. The Quakers currently reside in fourth place, but Cornell refuses to take them lightly. “Revenge” for snapping an eight-game winning streak and spoiling an undefeated Ivy League season as well as knocking the Red from the national ranking is fresh on the players’ minds.

“That’s a huge factor for us,” said senior center Jeff Foote. “I think that loss kind of motivated us for the rest of the season. It kind of showed us that we can be beat and it put a lot of anger in us that we played the way we did at Penn. We didn’t play our game, let them kind of control the tempo and do what they want. A lot of emotions are built up in this team, coming into the game, and I think a lot of our guys expect better the second time around.”

The group of eight seniors on the roster, including Wittman, Dale, Foote, Jon Jaques, Geoff Reeves, Alex Tyler, Andre Wilkins and Pete Reynolds, has won the most games in school history with an 82-32 record overall and a 43-9 mark in conference play. They have a chance to become the only program other than Penn or Princeton to win three consecutive conference crowns. However, as they lace up their sneakers for the last time at Newman Arena, it is the camaraderie and common bond they will miss most once dancing is done in March.

“It’s been great,” Dale said. “It’s definitely an experience I will remember for the rest of my life and really cherish. These guys are my best friends. I look forward to coming out and practicing with them every day. We live in a house together and I see them every day. It’s great to be part of a great team like this that really has great chemistry, and we play hard together on the court.”

Foote echoed Dale’s sentiments, “It was a tremendous experience. I transferred here from Bonaventure, where the team was loose and in shambles. Guys didn’t really get along. I had two guys on the team I was friends with. When you come into a place a like this, everybody is like a brother. These guys are my best friends. We all live in a house together. It’s been a great experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I love these guys.”

Original Author: Matthew Manacher