The past two weeks have been a revelation for the Cornell men’s basketball team, earning its first two Ivy League wins of the season and losing the other two games by a combined three points. Cornell (6-16, 2-6 Ivy League) will look to continue the trend this weekend against visiting rivals Harvard (18-4, 7-1) and Dartmouth (5-17, 1-7).
A year after losing star Jeremy Lin ’10 to the Golden State Warriors of the NBA, Harvard has rebounded in amazing fashion, sitting just half a game behind Ivy League leader Princeton. Keith Wright has filled the void created by Lin’s departure, upping his scoring average from 8.9 to 15.6 points per game, and his rebounds from 4.6 to 8.5 per game. Wright was the major factor in the Crimson’s win over the Red, 78-57, earlier in the season, accumulating 21 points and an astounding nine offensive rebounds.
“Last time, Keith Wright beat us pretty bad [in the paint],” said senior forward and tri-captain Adam Wire. “We need to do a better job limiting his touches and offensive rebounds.”
Since its first matchup, the Red has completely changed as a team.
“We watched film of the Harvard game, and we’re just a completely different team now …” said junior guard and tri-captain Chris Wroblewski. “With any team, the more you play together, the more comfortable you get with each guy. We’re starting to play a little better and … with a lot more confidence … the last two weeks we’ve went into each game really believing we were going to come out on top.”
In their earlier matchup, Cornell forced only four turnovers and was unable to disrupt the Crimson offense, as they imposed their will on the offensive end.
“They did a great job penetrating and kicking it out to shooters,” Wroblewski said. “We’re going to have to do [a much] better job knowing where the shooters are and stopping [Harvard guard] Brandyn Curry’s penetration.”
In the four games since, the Red has forced its opponents into an average of 15.5 turnovers a game. Applying pressure will be essential in keeping the Crimson off-balance and limiting their efficient offensive game. Head coach Bill Courtney realizes that this is not as easy as it seems.
“[Harvard] is an ultra-talented team … we’ve been watching tape now and we’re still trying to figure out what it is we can take advantage of, but they don’t have a lot of weaknesses,” Courtney said.
Dartmouth poses much less of a threat, as the Big Green enters this contest losing 10 of their last 11 games; however, the one game they won was against the Red. Cornell played one of its poorest games of the season against the Green, shooting a paltry 33% from the field and committing 19 turnovers — 13 of which came in the first half — as the Red was down 17 at half. They were also outrebounded 37-32 —against a team that averages 6.9 less rebounds than their opponent.
Courtney assessed their performance quite simply: “We missed a lot of shots to begin that game, we turned the ball over a lot, and we let them score … If those three things happen, you’re going to lose.”
In order to avoid another embarrassing loss to the Big Green, the Red will have to play much harder.
“[In our first matchup], we came out so flat,” Wroblewski said. “The biggest thing against Dartmouth [is to] come out as the more desperate team. They wanted the game a lot more than we did [the first time], so we’re going to have to come out with a lot more energy this time around.”
Sophomore forward Josh Figini and sophomore guard Miles Asafo-Adjei will look to help provide that energy. In the last four games, Figini and Asafo-Adjei have been inserted into the starting lineup. Although they have each averaged only 10 minutes a game and have a combined 17 points in the four games, they have given many contributions that cannot be recorded in the box score.
“Right now, what that group has given us is … the ability to start games defensively like we want to, with tremendous energy and pressure,” Courtney said.
Although Cornell is mathematically out of the hunt for another Ivy League title, no one has given up on the season. The team continues to improve and will play the role of spoiler for the top teams in the conference.
“The guys never gave up hope,” Courtney stated. “They’ve shown, in the face of adversity, a lot of character.”
Original Author: Albert Liao