Cornell men’s basketball picked up its first two Ivy League wins in thrilling fashion over the weekend, topping Harvard, 77-65, on Friday and beating Dartmouth, 77-73, on Saturday. It is the Red’s first road sweep of Ivy opponents since 2013. The victories came without Ivy League-leading scorer Robert Hatter.
Both games had similar storylines: Cornell held the lead at the break, the opponent chipped away at the lead and eventually built one of its own and then the Red stormed back in the final minutes to pull off an improbable victory.
“It’s a great feeling,” said head coach Bill Courtney. “Not only getting the two wins, but the adversity we had to go through in both games to come out with the wins was a true statement for our program.”
On Friday night against 5-time defending Ivy League Champions Harvard, Cornell fell into an early hole, connecting on just one of its first 12 shots of the night. The Crimson took an early 10-2 lead.
After Harvard’s imposing force down low, Zena Edosomwam, was subbed out, the electric freshman duo of Matt Morgan and Troy Whiteside ignited Cornell’s offense, combining for the Red’s next 14 points, bringing the Red to a 16-16 tie with Harvard.
Morgan ended the night with 33 points, setting a Cornell freshman record for points in a single game.
Morgan’s buzzer-beating layup at the end of the half helped the Red finish a 19-5 run, opening up a 15-point halftime lead.
And then it all slipped away.
In a matter of six and a half minutes, Cornell made just one field goal, while the Crimson scored 18 points. Harvard took a 43-42 lead and seemed poised to issue the Red its third consecutive Ivy loss.
“Give [Harvard] credit for coming out of the locker room fired up,” Courtney said. “We didn’t score and they did. They made some threes and got the ball inside to Zena [Edosomwam], who was very effective against our defense.”
The Red remained within striking distance of the Crimson, responding to each of Edosomwam’s thunderous dunks and easy layups. Morgan hit back-to-back 3-pointers with under four minutes left to give Cornell the lead.
The biggest shot of the night came not from Morgan or his high offensive fire power classmates but from junior forward David Onuorah. With just under two minutes left and seconds on the shot clock, Whiteside was inbounding the ball underneath the basket. Harvard’s defense backed off Onuorah when he moved out beyond the 3-point arc. Whiteside hit the wide-open Onuorah with a pass and the 6-foot-9 forward casually drained his first career 3-pointer, giving the Red a 70-65 lead.
Lockdown defense, sharp free throw shooting and junior guard Darryl Smith’s dagger transition dunk helped Cornell close out the victory and pick up its first in-conference win.
Against Dartmouth, Cornell again fell into an early hole, this time trailing the Big Green, 18-10, seven minutes into the game. A quick 9-0 run helped the Red take the lead. Going into the half, Cornell opened up a 6-point advantage thanks to two 3-pointers in the final minute from Morgan and senior guard Robert Mischler.
“We didn’t play great against Dartmouth,” Courtney said. “The first half we played efficiently on offense. Defensively, we were O.K. They got a lot of offensive rebounds and second chance points. We kept them in the game with our mistakes, like not boxing out and turnovers.”
The Big Green had eight second chance points in the first half, compared with Cornell’s two. Dartmouth also had twice as many points in the paint in the first period, outscoring the Red near the basket by 12.
In the second half, Dartmouth methodically turned its 6-point deficit into a 10-point lead, holding a 54-44 advantage with 13:29 left to play. Dartmouth would maintain its lead for the next 10 minutes, always keeping Cornell’s high-octane offense an arm’s length away. The Big Green led, 70-61, with 3:43 left in the game.
Yet, just like against Harvard, a late Cornell run pushed the Red past the Big Green.
“We got several stops in a row,” Courtney said. “As a result, we were able to get rebounds, Jordan [Abdur-Ra’oof] and David [Onuorah] got big rebounds. We were able to push in transition.”
Smith made two free throws with 1:14 left then added two more on the ensuing possession to stretch the lead to three with 27 seconds left. Although Smith’s streak of made field goals ended over the weekend, he still added 25 points between the two games.
Following Smith’s second set of made free throws, Morgan made a pair of his own. The freshman totaled nine points in the final three and a half minutes. He ended the game with 32 points, becoming the first Cornell player in team history to score at least 32 points in consecutive games.
Courtney contrasted Morgan’s late game heroics against Dartmouth with his end-of-game performance against Harvard. While against the Crimson, the freshman used his 3-point shooting to power the comeback, against the Big Green, Morgan attacked the basket, drawing fouls. He ended the day with the third-most attempted field goals in program history.
“He took what the defense gave him,” Courtney said. “He really did a great job understanding where he had opportunities. He just saw opportunities and took them.”
Dartmouth scored once more — a 3-pointer with two seconds left — but by then Cornell had completed the comeback and taken down its second consecutive Ivy foe, this time by a score of 77-73.
Up next for the Red is another Ivy road trip. Cornell travels to Brown on Friday and then Yale on Saturday.