Sophomore guard Matt Morgan torched Northeastern for a career-high seven 3-pointers, but it was a simple layup that did the most damage as Cornell men’s basketball turned back the Huskies, 80-77, for the Red’s second win of the season and first at Newman Arena.
Sizing up his defender with 19 seconds left in the game, Morgan faked, as if he was going to pass to a teammate in the post. The sophomore then breezed by his man and through two other defenders for the layup and the lead.
On the other end of the floor, Morgan and senior guard JoJo Fallas swarmed Northeastern star T.J. Williams, knocking the ball out of his hands. Freshman forward Josh Warren scooped up the loose ball and was fouled, going on to knock down the ensuing foul shots to put Cornell out in front by three.
Williams’ potential game-tying shot hit off the front rim and Cornell players celebrated knocking off the Huskies.
“It was good to come back on our own floor, especially in front of the fans,” Morgan said. “[It’s great to] finally get a win and shoot the way we did, swing the ball the way we did. It was fun to play and fun to watch too.”
For head coach Brian Earl, the win was a relieving way to end a tough beginning portion of the season.
“To get a good win at home like this against a good team, it’s a relief,” the first-year head coach said. “I sort of want to just get into a recliner and take a deep breath.”
Coming off two away losses against strong opponents — Monmouth and Houston — Cornell welcomed a Northeastern squad hoping to extend its winning streak to three games. The Red had struggled to get out of the gate against Houston, missing its first seven shots to start the game. Sharp defense from the Cougars buried the Red in a 26-2 hole.
Morgan and the Red’s offense made sure that would not happen on Wednesday.
The squad opened up a 9-5 lead in the first three minutes of the game, and Earl said the offense was “really dialed in,” to start the game.
“We’re understanding more about how we’re going to get our shots,” Earl said. “What you saw tonight is we had a lot of good looks at the basket.”
Five of Cornell’s first seven made shots were 3-pointers, capped off by a pair of deep threes from Morgan.
“He’s just special,” Earl said of Morgan, who finished with a career-high 34 points. “I thought he took almost all good shots. It’s exciting to watch him work. He’s a bit of an artist out there with how he sees the game.”
Morgan knocked down his first four shots and scored 21 points in the first half, but it was not enough to give the Red an edge after the first 20 minutes of play. The Huskies, buoyed by 29 combined points from Williams and former Duke recruit Alex Murphy, took a four-point lead into the break, despite a 54 percent shooting from Cornell.
The Red came out of halftime firing, knocking down three of its first four shots from beyond the arc. Senior guard Robert Hatter’s 3-pointer with 16 and a half minutes left to play in the game gave the Red its first lead since early in the first half.
Similar to Cornell’s other win of the season — an 82-74 triumph over Lafayette — Earl praised Hatter’s ability to dictate the entirety of the offense. It was Hatter’s poise at point guard that started everything, according to Earl.
“He controlled the whole game,” Earl said. “If you’re not used to seeing really good basketball, you might not notice how well he did everything.”
The senior finished with 15 points and eight assists.
“He’s a double threat,” Morgan said of his backcourt partner. “He’s a very willing passer and he’s also a very capable scorer. The defense has to respect it. When he drives, he’s smart enough to know when he has the opportunity to score and when he doesn’t have the opportunity to score he know who’s open.”
The team’s traded the lead through the first 12 minutes of the second half, neither team getting much separation.
Northeastern, however, began to pull away when Hatter’s pass was picked off with the score knotted at 65. The Huskies scored six straight points to take a 71-65 lead.
Sophomore guard Troy Whiteside set up Warren down low for a lay-up to cut the deficit to four. Then, after a trio of free throws, Morgan hit sophomore forward Donovon Wright on an inbound pass to put Cornell back in front, 72-71.
But the Huskies quickly erased the lead with four straight points of their own.
The team traded baskets and then, with his team trailing by one with 31 seconds left on the clock Morgan got the ball and went to work. His layup, with seven seconds left, gave the Red a one-point lead and sent Cornell into the final exams break on a high note.
The win is just the Red’s second home game this semester, a challenge that Earl admitted has been difficult on everyone. But in the end, he acknowledged that it makes each win even sweeter.
“It’s a tough run,” Earl said. “They’ve kept an unbelievable belief in each other and our staff. It’s difficult but that’s what life is about. If everything is easier you wouldn’t remember anything. We’ll remember this one.”