With defensive pressure reminiscent of last year’s defensively dominant squad, the Red cruised to a victory over Lafayette, 85-67. While getting in passing lanes and disrupting Lafayette’s offense, Cornell made sure that every pass for the Leopards was a challenge. The Red forced 20 total turnovers, never letting up from beginning to end.
Cornell (5-4) capitalized on Lafayette’s (2-6) errors, scoring 23 points off of turnovers. The victory puts Cornell above .500 going into exam period.
“It feels great,” said junior guard Darryl Smith about getting back above .500. “We just have to keep it going.”
Smith had a career night, tying his career-high in points with 16 while also adding four rebounds, three assists and four steals while missing only two shots all game.
The Red opened up a 11-point lead early in the game, forcing seven turnovers in the first six and a half minutes. With 13:28 left in the half, Cornell led, 18-7.
“We started the game off terrifically, forcing turnovers, getting them out of their comfort zone and using our athletic ability on the offensive end,” said head coach Bill Courtney.
After allowing opponents to score more than 80 points in three straight games, the Red holding Lafayette to 67 points was a great sign for a defense that has struggled to keep team’s from scoring.
“That’s our identity, defense-first, getting stops on defense,” Smith said. “That transfers over to offensive baskets.”
Courtney also highlighted the team’s defensive improvement today.
“Our big point of emphasis going into the game was pressuring [Lafayette] and making them react to our defense, making them do things they didn’t want to do and hopefully speed them up, making them make mistakes,” Courtney said. “They’re a pattern offensive team that runs beautiful offense if you let them do what they do.”
Junior guard Robert Hatter caught fire midway through the half, at one point scoring 11-straight points for Cornell. After picking up two points on a fast break, Hatter, the Ivy League leader in points per game, converted a three-point play and followed up with back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Red up by 14.
Hatter finished with 29 points and a career-high nine rebounds while also tying his season-low with three turnovers.
“He was terrific,” Courtney said of the 6-foot-1 guard. “He’s been terrific all year and today he just kind of put the cherry on top of the sundae.”
Outside of Hatter and Smith, junior forward David Onuorah and sophomore forward Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof also scored in double figures. Courtney said he sees this as just one of the many signs that today’s victory was a team effort.
“It was a team win, not only for the guys in double figures, but also for the guys on the bench,” Courtney said. “Guys got tired out there in the first half and played so much basketball that that was bound to happen. … We were able to put in JoJo [Fallas] and Stone [Gettings] and Troy Whiteside who were able to give us a lift off the bench.”
Early in the second half, Lafayette immediately cut into the Red’s lead with back-to-back baskets to start the period, but freshman guard Matt Morgan answered back with his first 3-pointer of the night.
Later in the half, Hatter found Onuorah in the paint for the easy dunk to bring the Red up by 15. Onuorah stayed out of foul trouble and scored 11 points and pulled down eight rebounds. After assisting on just one assist in the Red’s first eight games, Onuorah dished out three against the Leopards.
Onuorah’s dunk was just one of many baskets Cornell had near the rim. All game the Red was successful getting to the hoop and converting close shots. Cornell put up 52 points compared with Lafayette’s 25.
The Leopards attempted a comeback midway through the second half, but Smith gave the Red some more breathing room when he made a layup with under six minutes to play, then on the other end of the floor, stole the ball and took it to the hoop for two. Strong free throw shooting helped Cornell close out the win.
After a two-week break for exams, the Red will travel to the Carrier Dome to take on Syracuse in the annual clash between the upstate schools.