The Cornell men’s basketball team lost on home court for the first time this season, falling to streaking American, 65-63, on Sunday afternoon at Newman Arena. The Red (2-4) fell behind early and clawed back into the game, but eventually gave way to the Eagles (4-2) — an all-too-familiar theme of Bill Courtney’s first 34 contests as Cornell’s head coach.
American senior forward Charles Hinkle — the nation’s third leading scorer — picked up where he left off before Thanksgiving, leading the visitors with 20 points. Hinkle scored a career-high 31 points on Tuesday in a win over Quinnipiac, the Eagles’ third of four straight victories after an 0-2 start to the season.
Cornell senior guard Chris Wroblewski pulled himself out of an early-season shooting slump to score a team-best 21 points. The co-captain entered the game having connected on only 6-of-35 field goals in 2011-12, but he hit 7-of-14 shots and all four free throws against the Eagles to go along with six assists and four rebounds.
“I’ve definitely been struggling and I’m trying to find that balance between getting everybody else involved and looking for my own offense,” Wroblewski said. “But [shooting well] didn’t feel good because we were losing the whole game. Some shots fell and hopefully it will give me a lot of momentum and confidence going forward personally, but from a team standpoint, we’ve got to figure this out.”
The Red again suffered a lethargic start, as Hinkle scored 11 straight points to vault American to an early cushion, 13-2. Senior forward Riley Grafft, who finished with 12 points and seven rebounds off the bench, pushed the Eagles’ advantage to 26-14 on a layup with 4:27 remaining in the first half.
“We’ve struggled starting games this season for whatever reason,” Courtney said. “We missed a lot of easy shots to start the game today and we had some defensive breakdowns. Those cost us because we were in this constant comeback mode of trying to fight back and using so much energy to get to that even level. Then when you finally get there, it’s hard to have that much more energy to try to get over the hump.”
Cornell responded with an 8-0 run to close the half, cutting the American lead to a field goal, 30-28. On the final play before intermission, wide-open freshman forward Shonn Miller yelled out at the top of his lungs in transition. Wroblewski attempted and missed a 3-pointer instead, but Miller was there for the put-back as time expired. In general, though, Miller and the other forwards were not strong enough with the ball, according to Courtney.
“I think both Shonn and [junior forward Eitan Chemerinski] had trouble finishing today,” Courtney said. “I thought we could’ve done a better job going up stronger and finishing, but we didn’t do that. That was very disappointing, in particular in the first half when we had some opportunities.”
Cornell took its first lead of the contest, 38-36, on a nifty reverse layup by junior guard Miles Asafo-Adjei just over seven minutes into the second half. Grafft scored six consecutive points, however, to put the visitors right back on top and start a 16-3 Eagles run over just 3:31.
“If we’re going to play at [a fast pace], then there are going to be some times when we are missing a couple in a row,” Wroblewski said. “But on the defensive end we can’t have those mental lapses.”
“We just didn’t come out with the energy we needed at the beginning of both halves,” added junior forward Josh Figini, who made 6-of-9 shots from the field for a career-high 14 points. “We hit some lulls and just weren’t able to get it back at the end.”
The Red inched back by forcing three turnovers out of a full-court press and scoring 12 points in the final minute, but American knocked down 9-of-10 free-throw attempts down the stretch to seal the two-point win.
The Eagles forced 16 turnovers on the day, leading to several fast break opportunities and subsequent Red fouls. American converted 22-of-27 attempts from the charity stripe to overcome a pedestrian 41.7 percent shooting performance from the floor, while Cornell hit 43.6 percent from the field but earned only 10 chances at the line.
“We gave up a lot of silly [turnovers], which are the kind you have to avoid,” Courtney said. “Turnovers of aggression [that result from] trying to make a play are sometimes OK, but the silly ones — like reversing the basketball and just throwing it to the other team — are the ones you can’t live with as a coach. We have to clean up some of the non-aggressive turnovers.”
“We have to protect the ball,” Figini added. “We’ve had a lot of turnovers in all of our games. I think the key to turning our season around is playing … the whole game at the pace that we played the last five minutes [against American].”
The Red looks to bounce back against another hot team, Lehigh (4-2), on Saturday at Newman Arena in its last matchup before a two-week respite for final exams. Cornell’s record through six games is identical to last year’s, but the Red believes it can distinguish itself from the team that went 10-18 in 2010-11.
“We’re still in the process of figuring ourselves out,” Courtney said. “We’ve played a tough schedule, but we have an even more tough schedule coming up, so we’ll have our hands full. We’ve got a little time to practice right now — about five or six days then a finals break — so we’ll re-tool and try to see if we can get the best out of our squad.”
Original Author: Quintin Schwab