February 24, 2013

M. BASKETBALL | Title Hopes Shattered By Penn, Princeton

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A weekend that could have put the Red (13-14, 5-5 Ivy League) on the heels of the conference leaders ended in disappointment, as the Red’s hopes of an Ivy title and a bid to the NCAA tournament disintegrated. On Friday night, Penn’s efficient 3-point shooting and aggressive on-ball defense plagued Cornell, while Princeton’s methodic offense and length in the paint proved too much for the Red to handle in a 72-53 loss Saturday.

Against the Quakers (7-19, 4-5), the Red played a solid first half, going into the locker room with a four-point lead. Though guard Tony Hicks was three-for-three from beyond the arc in the half, the rest of the Quakers were only one-for-six. The Red dominated the final ten minutes of the half with back-to-back 3-pointers by freshman guard Nolan Cressler and junior Guard Dominick Scelfo. However, that hot shooting all but evaporated in the second half as Penn’s shooters caught fire instead.

“Penn did a good job executing their offense,” said senior forward Eitan Chemerinski. “At some critical moments in the game, we had some defensive lapses and miscommunications, which gave them open looks at the basket.”

Hicks continued his impressive performance, scoring nine unanswered points midway through the half to give Penn the lead. He finished the game with 29 points, leading all scorers.

“Hicks did a good job coming off his prior experience getting some open threes,” Chemerinski said. “We could have done a better job chasing him around screens and helping to make sure he didn’t get open looks.”

Though the Red was never completely out of striking distance, the squad failed to make a significant run and was unable to get the lead under five in the final ten minutes. Both Hicks and guard Miles Cartwright — who had 15 points and nine assists in the game — hit clutch free throws down the stretch to eventually put the Red away, 79-71.

In a game that could have given the Red one more chance at staying alive in the race to the top of the Ancient Eight, Cornell looked lethargic in the first half Saturday night against Princeton (14-9, 7-2). The squad shot just over 15 percent from the field and only scored 14 points in the half. Going into the locker room down 33-14, it looked like the Tigers were ready to run away with a decisive win.

“In the first half, we had some good looks, and a lot of shots weren’t falling,” Chemerinski said. “Princeton did a good job defensively, but the most important thing was we didn’t do a good enough job moving the ball around.”

However, the Red started to interrupt Princeton’s rhythmic offense in the second half. The full court press that Cornell kept on for most of the game became more effective, and the Tigers started to turn the ball over.

“We did a better job in the second half of speeding them up,” Chemerinski said.

The quickness of senior guard Miles Asafo-Adjei helped to start the Red’s run. He picked the pocket of Princeton’s point guard at midcourt and was able to turn it into a fast-break layup on the other end. Senior forward Errick Peck followed suit with a steal of his own, handing the ball off to sophomore guard Galal Cancer. Cancer missed his first shot but got the rebound back and scored in the paint, making the score 42-31.

The two teams traded baskets for the next five minutes. Then, after a steal by sophomore guard Devin Cherry, Scelfo wove his way into the paint and scored on a finger roll under the basket, bringing the Newman Arena crowd to its feet for the first time. Princeton missed on the other end and sophomore forward Shonn Miller corralled the rebound, getting the Red out in transition. Cherry made a pretty move in the paint, and though the layup rimmed out, Chemerinski was there above the rim to tip it back in and put the Red within seven points  of the Tigers with eight minutes to go.

In keeping with the woes of the weekend, however, Princeton’s guard TJ Bray hit a three on the next possession, silencing the crowd and spurring a 9-0 run by the Tigers from which the Red could not recover.

Though he was forced to battle in the post all night with Princeton’s star forward Ian Hummer, Miller had the biggest game for Cornell, scoring 23 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. However, the Red was still outrebounded by the rest of the Tigers’ significantly taller lineup.

“Princeton is one of the biggest teams [in the Ivy League]; their strength is their size,” Chemerinski said. “They are a good rebounding team, and that is always a point of emphasis for us. It’s going to continue to be a big priority in the rest of our games.”

The loss of senior guard Johnathan Gray to an injury only added to the Red’s struggles to generate offense this weekend. Gray is one of only two Cornell players averaging double digits this season. He was coming off two 18-point games in a row before being sidelined.

“It was definitely a big loss for us not to have Johnny,” Chemerinski said. “But coach always tells us, the next guy has to step up, and we all have to do a good job collectively to pick up the slack and just keep up the intensity, even if Johnny can’t play.”

With Harvard and Princeton both sweeping their Ivy matchups this weekend, the Red finds itself tied for third place and four games back in the win column with as many games to go in the season. The squad will be back at home next weekend for rematches with Brown and Yale.

Original Author: Scott Chiusano