Dartmouth’s Connor Boehm went up for a layup under the hoop, finding himself beneath the 6-7 frame of sophomore Shonn Miller, who swatted his shot away. The black jersey-clad crowd of Newman nation rose to its feet as Boehm got the ball back and tried to go up with it again. Miller was still waiting, blocking the second attempt, this time into the hands of one of his teammates. These were just two of Miller’s six rejections on the day and part of a team defensive effort that stifled the Green all afternoon — forcing them to turn the ball over 18 times — and eventually giving the Red a 79-56 victory.
Though the Red ended the weekend with a win, it was not so successful Friday night against Harvard (13-7, 5-1 Ivy League), when a late game comeback came up just short in a 67-65 loss.
The Crimson was dominant in the first half, heading into the locker room with a 16-point lead. Every time the Red tried to make a run, it was effectively silenced by the shooting of Crimson guards Siyani Chambers and Christian Webster. The rookie Chambers led the Crimson charge with 18 points and 11 assists, while Webster connected on five shots from beyond the arc en route to 17 points.
The first 15 minutes of the second half told a similar story, with the Crimson remaining dominant on offense, trying to work the shot clock to their advantage. With 4:21 left in the game, the Red trailed by 15. However, Cornell turned up its defensive pressure and went on a 13-0 run that ended with a jumper by senior Errick Peck to put the squad within two with 42 seconds to go.
“We did a good job pressuring every pass, every dribble, making it as difficult as possible for them to be comfortable in their offense,” said senior forward Eitan Chemerinski. “When we do that, we get easy opportunities off fast breaks, and that is when we are at our best.”
In that stretch, the Red forced the Crimson to cough the ball up twice, with one of the turnovers leading to a transition dunk by Miller.
“It wasn’t anything as far as x’s and o’s. … We made a couple minor adjustments to stop the ball from getting out of the paint,” said senior guard Johnathan Gray. “Everybody one through five just played harder, we pressured the basketball every single moment and we kind of sped them up. They were trying to work the shot clock so that may have gotten them out of their rhythm.”
Following the jumper by Peck, head coach Bill Courtney called a 30-second timeout. After the break, senior guard Miles Asafo-Adjei fouled Chambers, but he missed the front end of the one-and-one, giving the Red the ball back with 11 seconds to go. Peck corralled the rebound and brought it down court, putting up a three-pointer that did not fall.
“The call was to keep the court spread for Errick to go one-on-one low on his man. We wanted to let him have another chance to put us ahead,” Gray said.
Peck — who had a team high 17 points in the game — gave the Red an important boost in the final minutes with two free throws, two big rebounds and the jumper that brought the squad within two.
“We wanted to let him decide whether to take it to the basket, or if his guy backed off him to shoot it,” Gray said. “We can’t go wrong with his decision. … He played a phenomenal game.”
On Sunday, against Dartmouth, the Red’s pesky defenders were bothering the Green from the very first possession, where they forced point guard Alex Mitola to turn the ball over.
“We did a good job carrying over the defensive intensity from the last 10 minutes against Harvard and started off with great energy, and I think that got us going a little on offense,” Chemerinski said.
Even though the game was postponed a day because of the snowstorm, the delay did not cause the Red to forget what had carried it back into the game on Friday night. Asafo-Adjei was especially effective on the defensive end, shadowing the Green’s point guards wherever they moved on the court.
“We’re at our best when we’re scrambling around, up in the ball handler’s face,” Gray said. “We have so much speed and athleticism, if we don’t use it it will go to waste. Especially with Miles being probably the fastest point guard in the league. It makes our jobs a little bit easier to deny.”
On the offensive end, the Red saw significant production from its three point specialists — junior guard Dominick Scelfo and freshman guard Nolan Cressler. Scelfo knocked down five threes for 15 points and Cressler shot five of six from the field for 14 points.
“They’re both great shooters. I think any time they get looks, we are confident they are going to knock them down,” Chemerinski said. “We did a good job dribble penetrating and kicking it out for some easier threes.”
Scelfo has seen a boost in his playing time in the start of Ivy League play as he continues to produce consistently. Against Harvard, he recorded a career-high five assists, including a rim-shaking alley-oop to Miller.
“Dom plays with a lot of confidence [and] we see it in practice. … This was one of those games where every shot he got he was looking to shoot. We have to have that looking forward,” Gray said.
With an even record once again after splitting an Ivy weekend series, the Red understands that it is no longer enough to take one out of two games. With Harvard and Princeton both losing their first conference games this weekend, the Red is right back in the running, Gray said.
“It comes down to what kind of mentality we bring in, we have to focus on one game at a time,” Gray said. “We can’t focus on what Harvard or Princeton is doing, we’ve got to focus on winning the next game. What we have to do now is get good practices in Monday through Thursday so we’re well prepared for the weekend. That’s where it starts — in practice.”
Original Author: Scott Chiusano