Cornell men’s basketball is preparing to face the teams at the top and bottom of the league when it plays Princeton and Penn this weekend. The team is looking to rebound from a pair of losses that have made reaching the Ivy League tournament a sizeable task.
The trip to Princeton will be the first time head coach Brian Earl returns to his alma mater on the opposite side of the court. Earl played for the Tigers before serving as an assistant and associate head coach from 2007-16, chalking up five postseason appearances during that time period.
This is the beginning of a tough last eight fixtures for Cornell — six of which are on the road — as the Red tries to make a late push for a place in the inaugural tournament. The top four teams at the end of the season will compete in Penn’s Palestra for a division title. Cornell will need to bridge the gap between its fifth-place standing and fourth-place Columbia, which has two more wins with the same amount of games played.
Princeton’s Jadwin Gymnasium has not been kind to the Red in recent times, as Cornell has not returned to Ithaca with a win in the last six attempts. Adding to the difficulty of the task ahead is Princeton’s own form; the Tigers have an eight-game win streak and they lead the league in scoring margin.
“The goal is always to come out with two victories,” said sophomore guard Matt Morgan. “Hopefully we can do that to stay within reach of the tournament. Princeton are the best team in the conference, so it would be great to take them down.”
Morgan noted the strength of the Princeton offense, with multiple players hitting double figures on a consistent basis.
Sunday’s game against Penn represents a must-win match, as Penn is winless in the Ivy League (0-5) and 7-11 overall. Penn won both matches in the series last year, despite a 31-point performance from Robert Hatter in a competitive 79-67 match at the Palestra.
“We are going to go into both games with the same mindset, from start to finish,” Morgan said. “[Penn] has been struggling but they are still a dangerous team. We can’t take them likely but we have to come out with the same intensity as we do against the top team in the conference.”
Cornell is coming into this weekend’s matchups fresh off a frustrating home loss to Yale. The match was scheduled to be played Saturday, but a series of power outages forced a delay until Sunday. The Red threatened to comeback with 1:57 left on the clock and a one-point margin, but similar to the game against Harvard earlier in the season, Yale responded with a series of baskets in the closing minutes to cement the victory.
“We watched some film and as a team we believe we should have come out with the victories,” Morgan said. “We gave the games away in the last three four minutes, so we have been working on closing out games to emerge with better results in the future.”