January 29, 2012

M. BASKETBALL | Red’s Offense Comes Alive in Home Win Over Lions

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Just after the halftime buzzer sounded, senior guard and co-captain Chris Wroblewski threw the basketball from Columbia’s 3-point line, 75 feet away from the basket, toward the rim. Instead of looking away and walking off the court, he watched it swish through the net as referees, teammates and fans all cracked a smile at his incredible shot. Although the play had no tangible impact on the final score, it appeared to give Wroblewski enough confidence to play one of his best games of the season as he helped Cornell (7-11, 2-2 Ivy League) beat Columbia (12-8, 1-3), 65-60, to avenge last week’s loss in New York City.

Wroblewski had one of his strongest performances so far this season, filling the stat sheet with 19 points — including 4-of-6 shooting from downtown — seven rebounds, five assists and just two turnovers. The co-captain did most of his work at the start of the second half, right after his incredible heave at the end of the first half. He nailed two 3-pointers and added two free throws to score the Red’s first eight points, expanding the lead to 11.

“It feels good; it feels really good,” Wroblewski replied when asked about his shooting. “This is has been a frustrating year for me shooting-wise. I’ve been struggling and it’s tough because I’m shooting well in practice and I’m getting [in the gym] in between classes and putting in the extra work. Not having that show up in the game, you get down on yourself.”

“[Chris] is our leader; we really want to go to him a lot and whenever we can,” said junior guard Johnny Gray, who finished the game with 14 points and seven rebounds. “We want to give him good looks, especially since when he’s going, it gets us going. Seeing him getting into the game and knowing that he’s hot, everyone follows his lead.”

To match Wroblewski’s strong start after halftime was Columbia’s point guard Brian Barbour. He scored Columbia’s first 10 points in the second half to keep the Lions in the game, matching Wroblewski shot-for-shot. Barbour finished the game with 19 points and five assists, committing just one turnover. The guard did most of his damage in the second half of the game, scoring 16 of his 19 and dishing out three assists.

“[Barbour] is an incredible point guard — all the credit to him,” Wroblewski said. “I couldn’t keep him in front of me and he made some ridiculous shots. He’s crafty [and] he’s tough to guard.”

“Brian Barbour got it going a little bit, causing us trouble in transition and just attacking the basket and finishing and-ones,” Gray added. “We wanted to make it as difficult as possible [since] we knew that he would get going eventually but we wanted to make sure we hounded him for 40 minutes.”

The start of the game was not as exciting as the start of the second half. After losing last week at Columbia, head coach Bill Courtney experimented with the starters, using a four-guard lineup.

“The four-guard set is just one of our strengths,” Gray said. “We have a lot of guards who can handle the ball and it causes other defenses fits. They have to probably put a big out there and we get mismatches and we use our speed. We have a lot of guards out here that can get up and down the court, which causes other defenses to have to get back in transition.”

Both teams had trouble shooting the ball out of the gates, as the game was tied, 13-13, with 8:28 to go in the half. The Red’s offense suddenly came to life as shots started falling. Cornell expanded the lead to 10 at one point and entered the half leading, 30-23.

The game went back-and-forth for several minutes, with neither team pulling ahead by more than 4 points. With 1:25 left and the Red up three, 62-59, the Lions had a chance to tie the game, as they attempted three open 3-pointers in one possession after securing two offensive rebounds. Luckily for the Red, all three attempts missed the mark. Despite a late lapse, Cornell’s overall effort rebounding the ball was much improved compared to last week, where Columbia held the advantage on the glass, 45-29.

“We got dominated on the boards last week and we really wanted to make an effort to get on the boards, block out [center Mark] Cisco and [forward John] Daniels and try to get rebounds,” Gray emphasized. “They’re not really going to score a lot in their half-court offense, they were [just] getting a lot of second chance points … We just wanted to cut those out and it helped us get the win.”

The game came down to Columbia’s final possession, when freshman guard Galal Cancer covered Barbour perfectly, forcing him to throw up a desperation fade-away 3 that harmlessly bounced off the rim. Gray grabbed the rebound and was promptly fouled and hit both free throws, leading to the final score, 65-60.

This game helped the Red regain its confidence after a tough loss at Columbia last week and is now ready to take on the rest of the Ivy League, according to Wroblewski.

“This one was a must-win for us, especially [with] a big weekend coming up — going to Harvard and Dartmouth — and to get back to [2-2] in the league, but more so for our morale and confidence,” Wroblewski said. “I thought we played our tails off … I’m so proud we got the win.”

Original Author: Albert Liao