March 28, 2010

HISTORY: Cornell Upsets Temple to Reach the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament for the First Time Ever

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. –– In 19 of the past 21 NCAA tournaments, a 12 seed has upset a 5 seed in the first round. Today, that trend continued –– and it was all thanks to the Cornell men’s basketball team. The Red made history on Friday afternoon, upsetting No. 5 Temple, 78-65, at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena to become the first team in school history to advance to the second round of March Madness –– and the first Ivy League squad to do so since Princeton in 1998.

“Going into the game … our mentality was we wanted to be the toughest team. … We knew that it was going to be a hard‑fought game, and that we just needed to stay poised and be tough,” Dale said.

On the other side, senior guard Ryan Brooks and sophomore guard Juan Fernandez led Temple with 14 points apiece, as junior forward Lavoy Allen chipped in 11 to complement five rebounds and four assists.

“They reminded me of St. John’s/Princeton combo because they’re athletic, but they slow the game down a lot, so it was good to [have beaten] both of those teams,” Foote said.

The Owls have now lost in the Tournament’s opening round for the past four years. Following Friday’s contest, Cornell head coach Steve Donahue had only positive things to say about his former mentor:

“I obviously can’t say enough about [Temple head coach] Fran Dunphy. He beat me 12 straight times when he was the head coach at Penn. I’ve never beaten him until now … he’s such a darned good coach. I am torn right now with that feeling in my stomach. I just respect the heck out of him.”

Although Temple drew first blood following a Luis Guzman 3-pointer, Cornell was quick to take charge thanks to Foote’s contributions in the paint and some sharp-shooting from Wittman and sophomore guard Chris Wroblewski.

“I expected a little bit tougher defense interior-wise, just because I didn’t expect the double-team so quickly. It seemed like after I scored the first two the double-team started coming,” Foote said.

The second half, however, proved a different story –– at least in terms of how Cornell found a way to preserve its momentum. After playing stingy defense in the first 20 minutes, the Red allowed the Owls to net seven shots in a row to open the second stanza. This time around, though, it was Cornell that showcased why it is the best 3-point shooting team in the country, as Temple was suddenly unable to contain the Red from the perimeter. Senior tri-captain Jon Jaques opened the scoring floodgates from beyond the arc, as Wittman soon followed with three treys of his own over the next three and a half minutes.

“I just kind of got in a rhythm for a few possessions there. I’ve got to give credit to my teammates [who] set great screens to get me open,” Wittman said. “I think what blew the game open was when we started getting stops and … scores at the same time.”

The Red continued to put on a shooting clinic as the half progressed, taking a commanding 18-point lead with 8:53 to play following a long distance shot from Dale.

With 17 seconds remaining and the Red comfortably ahead by 15, a foul by freshman forward Rahlir Jefferson sent Wittman to the line. He would miss both free-throw attempts in an uncharacteristic display, later admitting that he didn’t even remember shooting the first one, and –– in the excitement of the moment –– just kind of threw the second one up in the air without getting into position. Donahue emptied his bench in the waning seconds of the contest, as the team gathered on court to celebrate its historic win.

Throughout the season Temple had held its opponents to 37.9 percent overall and 28.1 percent from 3-point range –– placing the Owls within the top four in those categories nationally. On Friday afternoon, Cornell found a way to beat the odds –– shooting 56.3 percent overall and, despite a cool start from downtown, 39.1 percent from outside for the game. Temple, meanwhile, was held to just 5-of-17 from beyond the arc for the game. The Red out-rebounded its opponent, 30-20, and also held the advantage in steals, 7-3, thanks to heads-up plays from both the starters and the bench.

“We have three kids that come off the bench who … you’re not going to look at this sheet and see what they did, but [Geoff] Reeves, [Adam] Wire and [Mark] Coury all bring great energy [and] save us minutes on the defensive end, so these three guys [Foote, Wittman and Dale] who get all the ink can play offense,” Donahue said.

Dale acknowledged after the game that as historic and unprecedented as this NCAA tournament victory may be, “We want to keep advancing, we don’t want to just settle for one win. … I think that’s what’s great about our team –– we all have a competitive spirit and we all want to keep going.”

Original Author: Alex Kuczynski-Brown