It has been a rough stretch for the Cornell men’s basketball team, losing six straight games to Ivy League opponents and struggling on defense. The Red heads south this weekend to face Penn and Princeton for their final two road games and will look to improve in the Ivy League, but more importantly improve as a young team moving forward.
Two weekends ago in Philadelphia, Cornell (9-15, 2-8 Ivy) stayed close with Penn (10-13, 4-5 Ivy) in their first matchup of the season. At halftime, the Red trailed the Quakers by only one point. But coming off halftime, Cornell’s defense broke down and proceeded to allow Penn to shoot 63 percent from the field in the second half.
“In the Penn and Princeton games [2 weeks before], we were terrible defensively,” said head coach Bill Courtney. “It was a lack of attention to detail, silly mistakes. This weekend we want to focus guarding inside with Penn.”
“I’ve been trying to not go for as many blocked shots and stay out of foul trouble … protect the pait and help my team by just doing things I’m capable of doing like rebounding the ball,” said junior forward David Onuorah.
Courtney also commented on the success of the Quaker’s center Darien Nelson-Henry against the Red and how they want to focus on limiting Nelson-Henry’s touches.
“We are going to work better on not leaving shooters as much,” said freshman guard Matt Morgan. “Also, when Nelson-Henry caught the ball in the post, I feel like we did not do a good job of helping. We are going to work on that and being able to deny the wings so [Penn] does not get into their offense as easily.”
Cornell can keep up with this Penn team; it is just a matter of a young team avoiding mental lapses on defense. It is hard to win when the other team is scoring over 90 points.
“We gave up way too many points to [Penn] last time,” Onuorah said. “If we score enough points…and we lock down on the defensive end, we’ll be in good shape.”
The defense also hurt themselves against Princeton (18-5, 8-1 Ivy) in their previous matchup. With a top Ivy League squad like the Tigers, the last thing a team needs is digging themselves an early hole. And that is exactly what Cornell did.
Princeton hit 11 3-pointers in the first 15 minutes of the contest and led by as much as 25 points in first half. At that point, it was hard for the Red to make their way back, and were routed by the Tigers, 85-56. Cornell needs to watch the outside shot when they face Princeton again this Saturday or else they will face a similar fate.
“Guarding 3-point shooters has become a huge focus in both games this weekend,” Courtney said.
Nonetheless, the team has made some strides on the defensive side of the ball since their last meetings with Penn and Princeton.
“Last week we worked really hard on that end of the floor and I think it showed,” Courtney said. “In the Dartmouth and Harvard games [last week] we were a lot better defensively—played a lot harder. We really locked in on that end of the floor. We had that mentality, ‘defensive first,”… and we saw steps in the right direction.”
While the season has not been incredibly successful — albeit slightly better than a projected eighth place finish in the Ivy League — the focus has been making those steps in the right direction and making strides towards future success.
“If we come out, play how we are supposed to and hopefully come out with four victories, it would definitely build some momentum and some confidence going into the offseason and into the summer,” Morgan said.
The Ivy League does not have a tournament, therefore, Cornell has already been eliminated from winning the Ivy League.
“We can’t just worry about what happens this year,” Courtney said. “Obviously we have to focus on playing well in these last four games…but building forward to the future. Every single one of these guys will be here next year on this team so we have to continue building towards that.”
Cornell sits at seven out of eight in the Ivy League and can finish as best as fourth place in the conference with four games to go.