Following a pair of disheartening losses to in-conference opponents, the Cornell men’s basketball team will welcome Princeton and Penn to Newman Arena in order to try to get back on track as the Ivy League season approaches its halfway point.
“It was tough,” said junior guard Robert Hatter of last weekend’s games. “We definitely want to come back and make up for it. … We’re just putting it behind us.”
Hatter, who missed the team’s first four Ivy League games due to an ankle injury, returned against Yale and Brown last week and found it difficult to get back in the swing of things.
Hatter combined to score 21 points off of 8-for-31 shooting in the two games. In his first full week of practice since his injury, Hatter said the team is working to come together.
“My ankle is doing better,” Hatter said. “The team is doing fine — we’re clicking again. I have good hopes about this weekend.”
Head coach Bill Courtney said that Hatter is still working his way up to full recovery and has spent this week testing his limits with his injury.
“He’s shaking off the rust, he’s still not 100 percent,” Courtney said. “He’s finding his way as to what he’s capable of doing, what he’s not capable of doing. It’s a difficult process for a guy who’s got superior athleticism, speed, quickness and leaping ability to be robbed of that. He’s got to find another way to be effective.”
While Hatter struggled last weekend, freshman guard Matt Morgan continued his offensive barrage of the Ivy League by scoring at least 19 points in both games. If the Red wants to keep pace with Princeton’s dominant offense this season, Morgan and Hatter will both need to be at their bests, offensively and defensively.
“They’re really, really good on both ends of the floor, but particularly offensively,” Courtney said.
Courtney contrasted this Princeton team to the “Princeton Offense,” an offensive scheme centered around backdoor cuts and constant motion.
“They’re very dangerous,” Courtney said, “We have to take away 3-point shots first and concentrate on guarding their guys, not putting ourselves in help situations as much.”
Hatter also stressed the importance of making sure Princeton doesn’t find success from beyond the arc.
“They’re not the traditional Princeton team. They’re going to play faster than they usually do,” Hatter said. “They try to get shots off quick. … We just got to defend well and get our hands up to limit their threes.”
Princeton currently ranks first in the Ancient Eight in scoring. With four scorers in double figures, the Tigers sport a potent, balanced offense.
Led by Henry Caruso, a 6-foot-4 forward who’s shooting 52 percent on 3-pointers, Princeton has lost just one game in 2016, a four-point loss to Yale at the end of January.
“Caruso is very aggressive,” Courtney said. “We have to beat him to some of the spots that he wants to get to on his drives and we have to understand that if we give him space on the perimeter, he’ll shoot it.”
The following day, Cornell welcomes Steve Donahue and the Penn Quakers. Donahue, who coached the Red to three Ivy titles and a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2010, is in his first year as the Quakers’ head coach. Donahue spent four years at Boston College before being fired following an 8-24 campaign.
At Penn, Donahue has tried to continue his heavy reliance on 3-pointers that he used so effectively at Cornell. Unlike in previous years, his squad also boasts a particularly strong post presence, led by center Darien Nelson-Henry, who leads the team in scoring with 12.3 points per game.
“It’s two things,” Courtney said. “One, take away 3-point shots, because we know Coach Donahue wants to shoot threes, and two, stopping the big guy inside. Nelson-Henry is their go to guy and he gets a lot of touches.”
Cornell junior and forward David Onuorah will likely get the uneviable job of guarding Nelson-Henry. In last weekend’s pair of defeats, Onuorah totalled three blocks and five steals, yet continued to battle foul trouble, notching four fouls in both games.
The matchup against Princeton tips off at 6 p.m. on Saturday and the Penn game begins the following day also at 6 p.m.