November 19, 2010

C.U. Basketball Fades Down Stretch as St. Bonaventure Prevails, 56-54

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The Cornell men’s basketball team had its 12-game home winning streak snapped at the hands of a hungry St. Bonaventure squad Friday night, losing, 56-54, in a thrilling contest. Junior guard and tri-captain Chris Wroblewski missed well short and left on an off-balanced 28-footer as time expired, ending a game the Red appeared to have in control just minutes earlier.

“I didn’t make plays and didn’t hit shots down the stretch,” Wroblewski said.

The 2008-09 Ivy League Rookie of the Year also missed potential lead-taking and game-tying jump shots with 28 and 16 seconds remaining, respectively.

“I have to hold myself accountable for that,” he said.

For the majority of the game, however, Wroblewski was the big-time player for the Red (2-2, 0-0 Ivy). Despite six turnovers, he finished with a career-high 25 points along with five rebounds, five assists and four steals, and first-year head coach Bill Courtney didn’t mind his aggression in the game’s final minutes.

“I want the ball in Chris’ hands,” Courtney said. “He probably played too many minutes [38], and that’s on me. Maybe if he had gotten a little more rest he would’ve had his legs for the last few shots.”

St. Bonaventure guard Demitrius Conger, who finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds –– both career-highs –– nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing with 47 seconds left to give the Bonnies (2-1, 0-0 Atlantic 10) the lead for good, 52-51.

Junior forward and NBA prospect Andrew Nicholson added 19 points and 10 rebounds for St. Bonaventure, and was a key inside presence for the Bonnies, who out-rebounded the Red, 48-28.

“It was in the scouting report: we knew if we could rebound the ball we would get the win,” Courtney said. “You don’t get a stop until you get a rebound.

“We told our guys, ‘they’re going to miss the shot, just go get the rebound,’” he said, speaking of the sequence preceding Conger’s critical shot, in which St. Bonaventure corralled two offensive rebounds and earned several loose balls.

“We weren’t hungry enough to go after the 50-50 balls –– either team could’ve gotten them. We didn’t,” Courtney said. “That was the most disappointing thing.”

Not only did the Cornell forwards have trouble rebounding, but they failed to produce offensively, too. All but two points –– on a layup by senior center Mark Coury with 5:51 left in the first half –– were produced by the Red backcourt.

Senior guard Max Groebe also had a career-high 16 points on 4-of-6 3-point shooting. He and Wroblewski alone produced 76 percent of the Red’s scoring. Cornell was 5-of-26 on 2-point field goals for the game, and shot only 24 percent overall in the second half.

“We’ve got to try to be more aggressive and regain our offensive balance,” Courtney said. “Dribble penetration is not one of our strengths, so production down low is going to have to come from feeding the post.”

One Cornell player capable of getting into the lane is struggling sophomore Errick Peck, who didn’t score in 16 minutes of action. The talented forward, who didn’t start for the first time this season, was at the heart of a crucial sequence that changed the complexion of the game.

With 7:12 remaining and the Red leading, 44-35, Peck had his shot swatted by St. Bonaventure forward Brett Roseboro, then picked up a foul on the other end. The next time down, he turned the ball over and immediately committed another foul. The result: a 6-0 Bonnies run that pulled the visitors within three points. Two free throws from guard Michael Davenport gave St. Bonaventure the lead a minute later.

“The first game, [Erick] had a tough time making shots,” Courtney said. “The second game, he got in foul trouble; the third game, it was a little of both; the fourth game, he started thinking about how he’s struggling.”

After a put-back by Conger on one of St. Bonaventure’s 14 offensive rebounds tied the game at 28-all a minute into the second half, Cornell went on a 14-3 run, ending on Groebe’s 3-pointer with 11:32 left to play. But second chances and increased defensive pressure propelled the Bonnies on a 24-9 run that put them in front, 55-51, with 13 seconds remaining.

“Along with our guys going after it on rebounds, I think our defensive pressure picked up in the second half, and that was a big difference,” said St. Bonaventure head coach Mark Schmidt.

Groebe’s 3-pointer with 4.3 seconds left pulled the Red within one, 55-54. Nicholson then hit 1-of-2 free throws for the Bonnies, leading to Wroblewski’s challenged final attempt that could habe won the game.

Although the St. Bonaventure guards shot a combined 1-of-15 from the field, their defensive intensity –– particularly from senior Ogo Adegboye on Wroblewski –– wore out Cornell down the stretch.

Cornell will look to move back above .500 when it begins a five-game road swing at Lehigh (1-2, 0-0 Patriot League) on Monday in Bethlehem, Pa. The reigning Patriot League champions offer another set of talented guards in sophomore C.J. McCollum and Michael Ojo, who scored 23 points in the team’s last outing –– a 69-68 loss to Monmouth –– after missing the first two games of the season.

The Red hopes to put the frustrating loss to St. Bonaventure behind it, starting against the Mountain Hawks.

“There are a lot of things we can improve and correct on,” Wroblewski said. “If we take a positive out of [the game against St. Bonaventure], we lost by two and played an average game by every means.”

Original Author: Quintin Schwab