By AMIR PATEL
Just three games into the season and the Cornell men’s basketball team has already made it clear that last year’s woes are a distant memory. The Red equaled its 2013-14 win total in just the first home game of the season, as it knocked off regional rival Colgate, 58-52 on Tuesday night.
The win highlighted the squad’s offensive depth, defensive tenacity and willingness to run the floor, all of which will be tested against top competition at the Charleston Classic.
“Our guys have been executing the game plan well so far. We have stressed rebounding as a key to our success and our guys have done well at it,” said head coach Bill Courtney.
The return of All-Ivy First Teamer Shonn Miller, along with senior guard Galal Cancer, has proven to be a difference maker for the Red early in the season. After scoring 21 and 20 points in the first two games, Miller was held to six against Colgate, but his impact was felt throughout the game nevertheless. As a forward with the ability to stretch the floor and hit outside shots, the respect that defenses are forced to give him allowed openings for guards like Cancer and senior Devin Cherry to attack the rim. Against Colgate, Cherry stepped up with 21 points and five assists to lead the offense.
The game was fast-paced and physically intensive, forcing the Red to use a balanced bench attack to help it come back from a 17-point deficit. After scoring a combined total of nine points in its first two games, the Cornell bench doubled that amount against Colgate. Sophomore guard JoJo Fallas scored eight points and freshman forward Wil Bathurst chipped in four points and four boards in 18 minutes of work.
“We fought hard throughout the game. Having been down on the road against Loyola, we knew what was necessary and stepped up. Our guys stepped up the intensity in the second half to get us back in it,” Courtney said.
The Charleston Classic will be a significant early season test for the Red, with four big-name conference teams in the field — USC, Miami (FL), Penn State and South Carolina. The Red is in the bottom half of the bracket and is 13-point underdogs for the first game against South Carolina, which returns 11 players from last year’s team that finished second to last in the SEC for the second year in a row. The Gamecocks do return highly-touted shooting guard Sindarius Thornwell, who finished second on the team in scoring last season.
“We are looking forward to challenging games in the tournament. There are several top teams at the event and I am looking forward to great competition. Our play is improved so far, and we want to keep that going in Charleston,” Courtney said.
The top half of the Charleston Classic bracket features USC, a team that is coming off a season in which it finished last in the PAC 12. The Trojans bring in top freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who was the No. 41 ranked recruit out of high school according to ESPN. Miami, a team that had a down season last year after losing 2013 ACC Player of the Year Shane Larkin to the NBA, is also in the top half of the bracket. The Canes also welcome a top point guard in Ja’Quan Newton, the No. 58 overall recruit according to ESPN.
Cornell would not face either Miami or USC until either the tournament championship or consolation championship. The Red will face either Charlotte or Penn State after battling South Carolina tonight.
The Charleston Classic will be a true test for the Red, but it should prove to be beneficial down the line. With a matchup against No. 23 Syracuse on New Year’s Eve and a grueling Ivy League schedule highlighted by two games against previously No. 25 Harvard, the games the Red plays in Charleston will give the team experience against top competition early in the season.