Cameron Pollack | Sun Senior Photographer

The Red will rely on junior forward David Onuorah to bolster its defense this weekend.

January 28, 2016

Cornell Men’s Basketball Seeks First Ivy League Win

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Following back-to-back losses to Columbia to open Ivy League play, Cornell men’s basketball will search for its first in-conference win when the team takes on Harvard tonight and Dartmouth tomorrow.

Despite the pair of defeats at the hands of the Lions, head coach Bill Courtney said he’s proud of the way the Red (7-9, 0-2 Ivy) played against Columbia (13-6, 2-0). Even still, he’s quick to point out the ways in which the team could have played better, particularly in limiting turnovers and upholding the team’s defensive pressure.

“I was proud of the way we competed, how hard we played in particularly down there,” Courtney said. “We had a few more breakdowns here defensively. I thought we dictated tempo when we were at Columbia and did a good job of that for about 30 minutes here.”

Cornell competed in both games against the Lions without current Ivy League scoring leader Robert Hatter, who missed the games due to an ankle injury. While he did limitedly participate in practice this week, his status is still up in the air for tonight’s game against the Crimson.

Without Hatter, freshman guard Troy Whiteside earned a pair of starts, combining for 19 points in the two games.

“It’s been really good for me, it really helped my confidence,” Whiteside said about starting in Hatter’s place. “It’s helped me grow as a player, knowing I can step up and help fill that role.”

Whiteside and fellow freshman Matt Morgan were both instrumental in the team’s games against the Lions. Even though Morgan led Cornell in scoring both nights, he said he still has areas of his game to work on as Ivy League play heats up.

“[I’m] working on getting my shot off a little quicker, looking at some things to get teammates better shots off of my drives,” Morgan said. “I’m also trying to kick it back to our shooters like Stone [Gettings] and Jordan [Abdur-Ra’oof], getting them better opportunities and better looks at the rim.”

Last Saturday, 6-foot-10 forward Luke Petrasek helped power the Lions to a 79-68 over Cornell. Tonight, the Red battles another big man in Harvard’s Zena Edosomwan, who plays a completely different style than Petrasek. While Columbia’s forward tended to drift out beyond the 3-point arc, Harvard’s big man prefers to bang around down low. In fact, Columbia’s Petrasek is shooting a better percentage from 3-point land then Harvard’s Edosomwan is from the free throw line.

“He’s had a terrific year so far, he’s hard to cover one-on-one,” Courtney said of Edosomwam. “We’ll have to do a great job of getting it out of his hands and do a great job of helping when he does get it. But at the same time he can get pass the ball out to three point shooters. It’s a balanced offensive team, you have to do a great job of containing him and also a great job of not letting the others get free.”

Limiting 3-point shooting has been a focus for the team since allowing the Lions to shoot 54 percent from deep last game. According to Morgan, Cornell wants to do a better job of closing out Harvard and Dartmouth’s shooters with intensity.

As has been the case since Courtney arrived to the team six years ago, he has placed an emphasis on pushing the tempo and getting opponents out of their comfort zone.

“We’ve been practicing continuing to play our game as much as we can,” Whiteside said. “We know we want to speed [Harvard and Dartmouth] up, pressure the ball like we normally do with all teams, just playing fast like we always do.”

Courtney said that while he has stressed the same mentality all year, it all comes down to in-game execution this week.

“It’s not really what you do,” Courtney said. “It’s how you do it.”