February 11, 2011

Men’s Basketball Takes Down Penn in Overtime Thriller

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For a moment, it appeared as if the Cornell men’s basketball team was going to suffer yet another heartbreaking loss. In a season that’s featured nine defeats by five points or fewer, the Red was finally able to find some luck — or not so much, depending on the way one looks at it — to generate its first winning streak of the season, downing Penn in overtime Friday night, 82-71.

Penn (9-11, 3-3 Ivy League) senior forward Conor Turley missed the front-end of a one-and-one with 1.3 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime. How Turley earned a trip to the line was questionable.

After Cornell (6-15, 2-5) senior forward and tri-captain Adam Wire rebounded a Turley miss with 35 seconds to play, the Red was able to hold for the last shot. Junior guard and tri-captain Chris Wroblewski, who led the team with 21 points, deliberated until about eight seconds remained. He then took Penn junior guard Zach Rosen one-on-one, stepped back and fired up a falling-back 3-pointer that rimmed out.

Senior forward Mark Coury rebounded the miss and put in a layup as time expired, but was whistled for pushing off on Turley — the team’s seventh foul of the half, sending Penn to the line. A furious Bill Courtney, Cornell’s first-year head coach, ripped off his jacket and ran in disbelief as a Newman Arena crowd of 2,137 booed the officials.

“I found it difficult to make that call at the end of the game,” Courtney said. “But you know what: if the referee got it right, then I take my hat off to him.”

Red Senior guard Max Groebe scored 20 points on six-of-eight 3-point shooting, including two on back-to-back possessions to begin overtime.

Cornell dominated the extra frame, outscoring the Quakers 19-8, hitting four-of-five shots from the floor and making nine-of-11 free throws. Part of it was determination; part of it was stamina, according to the Red.

“After [Turley missed the free throw], we just couldn’t lose the game,” Wroblewski said. “We wanted it so bad, we came out and were a desperate team.”

“We had a lot of confidence that we were going to win. [Penn] had three guys who played over 40 minutes,” Courtney said, referring to the Quakers’ Jack Eggleston (45), Miles Cartwright (42), and Rosen (41). “We knew when [Turley] missed the free throw that we were going to win the ball game.”

Twelve Cornell players saw action.

“[Fatigue] was definitely a factor down the stretch — we had fresher legs,” Wire added.

The Red jumped out early, gaining a 29-13 advantage through well-distributed scoring with just over seven minutes to play in the first half. But Penn responded with a 39-14 run spanning 18 minutes and led 52-43 after a layup by Tyler Bernardini with 8:41 to play.

“For a while we were just giving up layup after layup,” Wire said.

Eggleston led Penn with 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists. He was held to only three free throws over the last 15 and-a-half minutes of action, however.

“They were scoring at will in the second half,” Courtney said. “But we got just enough stops down the stretch to have a chance to win.”

Penn made 57.7 percent of its shots in the second period, compared to Cornell’s 34.8 percent. The Quakers out-scored the Red in the paint, 34-16, for the game, including 22-6 in the second half.

But the Red showed resolve. Not only was Cornell able to come back from its nine-point deficit to tie the game at 55-all with 5:39 remaining, but the team also answered when Penn pushed the lead back to 60-55 at the last media timeout — and again when Cartwright’s 3-pointer made the score 63-58 with three minutes to play.

“We’ve been through so many [close games],” Courtney said. “There’s no panic in us. There’s a sense of calm. We might be starting to figure this thing out at the end of close games.”

Wroblewksi took matters into his own hands, notching the last five Red points of regulation to force overtime. It was almost eight at the frantic finish.

“First I thought Chris’s shot was good,” Groebe said. “And then I thought Mark’s bucket was going to count.”

Rosen scored 15 points for the Quakers, hitting the 1,000-point mark for his career. He was the only other double-figure scorer for Penn.

The game was Penn’s third straight Ivy League defeat, the third straight in overtime and the third straight in which the Quakers once trailed by double-digits. Don’t look to the Red for sympathy.

“Two in a row is huge,” Groebe said, speaking of the Red’s first back-to-back wins in the 2010-11 season. “We’re ecstatic.”

“Ahh — it feels good,” Wire noted.

It took three months and 15 defeats, but at last, Cornell has momentum on its side.

“We showed a lot of fight and lot of heart tonight,” Courtney said. “It’s all a building process: even though we lost to Yale, we had to build on that 38-minute performance. And then we built on the win against Brown. Then on this week’s practices. And now we have a winning streak.”

Original Author: Quintin Schwab