February 20, 2011

Men’s Basketball Struggles Against Crimson Guard Play

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Normally when a basketball team turns the ball over only eight times in a game, outrebounds its opponent and earns twice as many points in the paint, it wins. Such was not the case for the Cornell men’s basketball team (6-17, 2-7 Ivy League) Friday night, as a glaring 35-6 free-throw attempt discrepancy in favor of Harvard (19-4, 8-1) kept the Red at arm’s length throughout the night in a Crimson victory, 73-60.

Harvard sophomore guard Christian Webster led all scorers with 20 points, fellow sophomore guard Brandyn Curry pitched in 18 and three other Crimson players hit double-digits to boost the Ivy contenders to a season sweep of the Red — just one year after Cornell won the two meetings by a combined 45 points.

The story for Harvard was reversed from its 78-57 win on Jan. 29 in Cambridge, Mass., when frontcourt players, junior Keith Wright and sophomore Kyle Casey totaled 37 points and 20 rebounds. This time out, with the Cornell forwards holding the Crimson big men relatively in check, the sophomore guards conducted Harvard’s efficient offense. Ultimately the result was the same — Harvard’s athleticism proved too much for the Red to handle.

“[Harvard] is such an athletic group,” said head coach Bill Courtey. “They jump over you at times, and we’re kind of a grounded group. We fought, but they are very athletic. That was a factor in them earning so many fouls.”

Cornell was whistled for 20 fouls on the night, while the Crimson was limited to 11. It didn’t help that Cornell starter sophomore forward Errick Peck picked up his second foul fewer than four minutes into the game and sat for the remainder of the first half.

Coming off its best four-game stretch of the season, the Red was slow out of the gate. The Crimson built leads of 12-2 and 15-4, and set the tone for the rest of the contest as the Red struggled to make shots and defend dribble penetration early.

“We missed shots early, and we missed a little confidence in ourselves,” Courtney said. “It didn’t look like we had the same kind of swagger that we had [the past two weekends]. We were the ones under siege rather than the attackers.”

Junior guard Andrew Ferry, who led the Red with 12 points, called the performance at the beginning of the game “sluggish.”

The Red also lacked discipline at times. Cornell fouled three 3-point shooters on the night, leading to seven Harvard free throws. The last violation occurred on a successful Webster shot from distance with 14:51 remaining to increase the Crimson advantage, 48-34, breaking the game wide open.

“When those types of errors happen, you know you’re not tuned in enough to beat a team like Harvard,” Courtney said. “For whatever reason — whether we respected Harvard too much or I don’t know — we were not locked in and focused like we needed to be to win the game.”

Webster, and particularly Curry, repeatedly broke down Cornell defenders — both off the dribble and with sharp passes — which led to all the looks from the free-throw stripe.

“Curry was phenomenal; he was the key to the game,” Courtney said. “Every time we made a run and seemed to get close he made a play.”

“[The Harvard guards] are quick, athletic, strong and experienced — they’re very good players,” Ferry said. “When we pressured the ball, if they got a good first step that was all they needed.”

“They have really good efficiency in their guard play,” said senior forward Mark Coury, who had six points and seven boards. “They were knocking down shots early, they got to the free-throw line early and their guards penetrated to get open 3s and free throw looks. … When a team shoots [29] more free throws than us, that’s hard to recover from. That’s something that’s been hurting us all year.”

Sixteen of the last 20 Cornell opponents have shot more than 20 free throws against the Red.

“Tonight the referees were calling it pretty close,” Ferry said. “We have to be more conscious when the game is being called tight like that and adjust.”

The Red did manage to hit 14 of its 30 shots from the field after halftime and one of Ferry’s four 3-pointers cut the gap to 11 with 3:37 to play, but Cornell made only 6-of-24 from 3-point range for the game. On the other end Harvard knocked down 83 percent of its abundant free-throw looks to make sure the Red didn’t come storming back.

“In the second half we did play with that kind of energy, intensity and effort that we need, but we waited a little too long to play desperate,” Courtney said.

The question remains, did the Red suffer any type of setback, after winning two of its past three games and nearly upsetting Princeton?

“Ask me that question after [the game against Dartmouth Saturday night],” Courtney said.

Original Author: Quintin Schwab