June 9, 2010

Cornell Basketball Ends Season

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Cornell’s historic 2009-10 campaign began with the Red’s first win over a Southeastern Conference team in 37 years. It would end in the Sweet 16, at the hands of the top-ranked SEC team in the country.Widely-considered the best Ivy League squad since 1979, Cornell fell to No. 1-seeded Kentucky, 62-45, on March 25, 2010, at the Carrier Dome — ending the Red’s NCAA tournament run.Undoubtedly energized by the largely pro-Cornell crowd, the 12th-seeded Red jumped out to an early 10-2 lead courtesy of five points from senior guard Louis Dale and senior forward Ryan Wittman’s only 3 of the half. However, Cornell’s players proved no match for the length and athleticism of a Kentucky team that will have several representatives in this summer’s NBA Draft.Indeed, the Wildcats responded with a 30-6 run of their own, spearheaded by freshman center DeMarcus Cousins’ 4-of-5 shooting. Plagued by Kentucky’s suffocating defense that forced 12 Cornell turnovers in the first 20 minutes alone, the Red started the second half trailing by 16 — its largest halftime deficit of 2009-10. Cornell’s 16 also marked the least amount of points it had scored in a half all season.Coming out of the locker room, the Red held the Wildcats to just six points in the first 12 minutes and battled back to within six, 40-34, following a trey from Dale with 5:42 remaining.“When we got to that point and we cut it to six, I thought we had it. I thought this was our game,” said head coach Steve Donahue in the post-game press conference.However, the No. 2 team in the country –– led by Cousins and freshman guard Eric Bledsoe’s 8-of-10 performance from the free-throw line –– was able to pile it on down the stretch and quell any chance of a Cornell comeback. At 0:43, Bledsoe found freshman guard John Wall –– projected as this year’s No. 1 overall draft pick –– for the alley-oop to cement their team’s place in the Elite Eight.For the third game in a row, Dale led the Red with 17 points while also grabbing four rebounds.“We’re just going out there trying to win. At the end of the day, I would be satisfied with zero points and a W,” Dale said.Sophomore guard Darius Miller managed to effectively limit Wittman’s offensive potency, as Cornell’s leading scorer was held to just 10 points and 2-of-7 from beyond the arc.“[Ryan] was 2-for-7. If he’s 3-for-7, it’s a good night. That’s how crazy basketball is. Obviously we rely on making shots. That’s how you’re going to compete against that kind of athleticism,” Donahue said.Kentucky held Cornell to both its lowest field-goal percentage (33.3) and points in a game (45) on the season, and also kept the nation’s top 3-point shooting team to just 5-of-21. Even when the Red players were able to shake their defenders and get an open look, the shots just weren’t falling.“Sometimes you just have games like that where they don’t go down. But they’ve got a lot of length on defense, obviously. Something we had to get a little bit adjusted to. I don’t think Temple and Wisconsin quite had the length on the perimeter that they do,” Wittman said.The also Wildcats notched 15 points off fastbreak opportunities to the Red’s zero, while holding Cornell’s bench scoreless.On the other end, the Red held the Wildcats to their second-lowest point total in 2009-10 and successfully minimized damage from the perimeter. However, despite connecting on only 2-of-16 from outside, Kentucky still shot 44 percent overall for the game. Both teams shot 61.5 percent from the charity stripe, although the Wildcats had twice as many free-throw opportunities.The Red finished the season with a record of 29-5, the winningest season in Ancient Eight history. The 2010 senior class concludes its four-year careers with 88 wins — the most among a single class in school history and the fourth-highest total in the Ivy League.“What this group accomplished is almost surreal, what’s gone on the last two weeks. I’ve been in this league for 20 years and I have had three NBA players on one team that didn’t accomplish nearly what this team accomplished. I know it sounds corny, but they love each other more than any other team in this tournament, in my opinion. That’s why we’re good,” Donahue said.With 35 seconds remaining and the Wildcats matching their largest lead of the game at 17, Donahue brought in his reserves. And as the Red starters took a seat on the bench –– for what would be the last time for four of them in a Cornell uniform –– they did so to a chant that could not have been more appropriate: “Thank you seniors.”

Original Author: Alex Kuczynski-Brown