March 6, 2011

Bench Proves Key in Final Weekend Win Over Bears

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“I don’t think there’s any chance we would’ve won this game earlier in the season,” said Cornell men’s basketball head coach Bill Courtney, when asked about Red’s 75-66 come-from-behind victory against Brown Friday night. In fact, there were a handful of games from the beginning of the 2010-11 season in which Cornell was neck-and-neck with its opponent for the majority of the contest, only to fall behind by several points and fold down the stretch.

But the February and March version of the Red (9-18, 5-8 Ivy League) is a vastly different team — a team that ended the game against the Bears (11-16, 4-9) on a 29-10 run to overcome a 56-46 deficit eight minutes into the second half.

“Maybe at the beginning of the season we would’ve folded when we fell behind by [10] points,” said senior forward Mark Coury, who tallied his third straight double-digit scoring game with 13 points. “It probably would’ve been one of those stepping stones, but most likely we would’ve lost.”

Following several minutes of back-and-forth runs, the Red finally broke through on a 3-pointer from sophomore forward Josh Figini with 3:36 to play, giving Cornell its first lead of the second half, 67-66. Brown hadn’t scored for three minutes at that point, and wouldn’t get another point for the remainder of the game.

“We got some stops finally,” Courtney said. “[Senior forward and tri-captain Adam Wire’s] defense on [Brown sophomore forward] Tucker Halpern was great in the second half. [Sophomore guard] Johnathan Gray’s defense on [Brown freshman guard] Sean McGonagill was very good as well.”

Halpern scored 17 points in the first half, but managed just one free throw in the second session. Brown missed its last nine field goal attempts of the game, and shot only 31 percent (9-of-29) from the field after halftime.

Figini, who scored nine points and grabbed seven rebounds in only nine minutes of action, was one of the more productive Red players down the stretch. The starter is used to seeing the floor only to begin halves, but this time was given the opportunity to play in crunch time and cashed in, snatching five rebounds, converting a critical put-back and hitting two free throws in the last four minutes.

“I just try to have as much energy as I can and keep the guys out on the court going,” Figini said. “I was sticking to my game and played as hard as I could, and that’s where most of my points came from.”

Senior guard Max Groebe jumpstarted the comeback, connecting on layups on consecutive possessions midway through the second half to cut the Bears’ lead to six. Groebe was part of a Cornell bench that outscored Brown’s, 46-21. The Red also dominated Brown on the boards, 44-31.

“It seemed like everybody contributed,” said junior guard and tri-captain Chris Wroblewski, who led Cornell with 14 points. “[Gray] did a great job of attacking the hoop, Wire did an amazing job getting us second-chance opportunities and Coury was really big as well. We needed some energy because we were kind of in a lull for a while and guys stepped up.”

After Brown built a nine-point lead, 30-21, with seven minutes to play in the first half, Cornell responded with an 11-0 run. A Halpern 3-pointer in the final seconds gave the Bears the advantage going into the locker room, 41-39.

The Red seemed unfazed despite allowing Brown to slowly build a double-digit advantage in the second half, and was able to halt the Bears offense just in time. It is questionable whether Cornell could have completed such a comeback at the beginning of the season.

“We’ve come a long way,” Wroblewski said. “One thing is confidence. The last couple weeks we’ve had some victories, and as a younger team we need to see that happen. We are playing a lot better as a team.”

“What we’ve accomplished after so much adversity — losing 10 games by five points or fewer — is great,” Courtney said. “We could’ve folded up the tent and gone home, but guys stuck with it.”

The Red has won five of its last eight games and for a junior like Wroblewski, a senior night win over Yale would have meaning beyond the team earning its longest win streak of the season.

“This has been a season of adversity,” he said. “To go out on a three-game winning streak — and send the seniors out with a win — would be great.”

Original Author: Quintin Schwab