November 15, 2011

M. BASKETBALL | Miller Leads Red to Opening Night Win

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After freshman forward Shonn Miller’s emphatic put-back slam shook the rim, the fans at Newman Arena erupted. The dunk capped a 22-2 second-half run that put Cornell (1-1) up by 15 over Binghamton (1-2), with less than nine minutes to go in the game. The Red never looked back after that, cruising to a 76-61 victory in its first home game of the season.

Though the scoreboard showed a 15-point advantage for Cornell at the end of regulation, the score was close for the majority of the game. After winning the tip-off, the Red started off the first minutes with two missed 3-pointers and a missed layup, until senior guard and co-captain Drew Ferry finally connected on a 3 off a pass from inside by junior forward Eitan Chemerinski.

“We were a little bit anxious at the beginning of the game, because obviously it’s exciting to get a big home crowd,” said assistant coach Mike Blaine. “I think we took great shots — a lot of them were shots that typically go in — but for whatever reason didn’t fall.”

“[Head coach Bill Courtney] told us at halftime that our good looks would eventually go in, and I guess that’s what happened in the second half,” Chemerinski added.

The Red shot a dismal 28 percent from the field in the first half, as opposed to 63 percent in the second session. Cornell kept itself in the game, though, by hitting six 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes, thanks to Ferry and senior guard and co-captain Chris Wroblewski, who combined to score five of the six.

With a minute to go in the half and the score tied, 26-26, Courtney put four fresh players on the court, including 6-9 freshman forward Deion Giddens, who did not see any time in the Red’s first game of the season. The Bearcats brought the ball down court, working it around until senior Carlyle Francis drove baseline for what looked like a wide-open layup. Giddens came over from the weak side to block the shot, allowing the Red to break out in transition. On the other end, freshman guard Galal Cancer finished a layup in traffic on the left side, putting the Red ahead by two going into the second half.

Cancer and Giddens were just two of a host of other players, including Miller, junior forward Josh Figini and junior guard Miles Asafo Adjei, who provided the Red a boost off the bench. Depth is something the Red will continue to count on this year in close games, according to Blaine.

“Our No. 1 key to the success we have this season is our depth,” Blaine said. “Our whole mindset is to keep the pace of the game very high, very up-tempo, to continue to wear down our opponents and throw fresh bodies into the game.”

The constant shift in lineups offered the Red an opportunity to push the ball up the floor in transition, and to work relentlessly in its half-court trap on defense.

“If we play at a high octane pace and play to exhaustion, and continue to come at guys in waves, we’ll eventually throw enough pressure on them on both ends of the floor,” Blaine added.

The Red came out strong in the second half with a 3 by Ferry to increase the Cornell lead to five, but the Bearcats answered with a 10-2 run to flip the score in its favor. Suddenly trailing by five, the Red started to feed the post. Chemerinski scored on two straight offensive possessions to put the Red within one. His two quick buckets began a flurry of scoring by the Cornell offense.

“I had good position in the post and took advantage of what the defense gave me,” Chemerinski said. “But sticking with our offense, those are the type of looks we’re going to get.”

After picking up an offensive foul, Chemerinski was replaced by Miller, who missed two open dunks earlier in the game. The rookie did not miss again from the field. Miller promptly hit a layup off an assist by Wroblewski, and drilled a 3 from the top of the key the next time down the court to put the Red up by four with 12:04 left. Miller’s streak continued from there, as he scored on each of the next two possessions before forcing a turnover and scoring again.

After Wroblewski hit junior guard Jonathan Gray with a flawless pass for an open layup, the Red found itself up by 12. Then Miller took over once again, blocking a layup on the defensive end, and drawing a foul on the other end before his put-back dunk capped an already miraculous performance.

“Shonn had a great night,” Blaine said. “A lot of guys on the team were making plays and forcing defensive rotations and Shonn was there to take advantage of it.”

Fourteen of the 22 points on the Red’s run were accounted for by Miller.

“He’s really learning where he can be effective and where in our offense he’ll have the opportunity to be aggressive and make a play,” Blaine said of the freshman.

“He came in and brought a lot of energy, on offense and on the rebounding end,” Chemerinski added.

On Wednesday at 7 p.m. the Red visits Buffalo (1-0) in search of its second non-conference win of the season.

Despite the win against the Bearcats, the Red was out-rebounded, 50-37, something the squad will need to be wary of against a Buffalo team featuring 6-10, 225-pound forward Mitchell Watt.

“We are spending a lot of time on our blocking out and our rebounding drills,” Blaine said. “But our rebounding numbers are not necessarily a shortcoming so much as a product of our pressure defense, where if the other team doesn’t get a shot up, we don’t have an opportunity to get a rebound.

The Red forced the Bearcats to cough the ball up 19 times on Sunday night, an area which Blaine considers a focal point for the team.

“We’re always trying to make things uncomfortable for the other team and hopefully get some turnovers to go down the other end,” he said.

Original Author: Scott Chiusano