The only thing Cornell men’s basketball’s head coach Brian Earl cares about is the now.
So when the Red visited Princeton this past weekend — Earl’s home for over 13 years in schooling, playing and coaching — it was no surprise he was more focused on the game at hand than remembering the years in the rearview. When the Princeton PA announcer read off his accolades and accomplishments in the orange and black, Earl was busy preparing his team for an essential game to try and claw into tournament contention.
“There’s so many familiar faces. The place has done so much for me so it’s nice to be home, but before the game and right now, I’m not as happy to be back here,” Earl half-jokingly said after the Princeton game. “Its great that they read that off but it’s good to see the people who have done so much for you in the department.”
Unfortunately for Earl, his team was not able to make it a happy homecoming, as Cornell (6-17, 2-6 Ivy) dropped a 69-60 decision on the road against the Tigers (15-6, 8-0), as well as an 82-63 game Sunday at Penn (9-12, 2-6).
The first game of the weekend — Earl’s homecoming at Princeton — was always going to be a tall task. The Tigers represent the top team in the Ancient Eight, undefeated in league play, while Cornell currently sits at the outside looking in with regard to postseason play.
Cornell certainly seemed like it came to play, especially its top players. Sophomore and senior guard Matt Morgan and Robert Hatter combined for 41 points, and sophomore forward Stone Gettings nabbed a career-high 13 rebounds.
But when just two players account for over a third of the team’s total points, it usually brings trouble, especially when the opposing team has three players in double figures. Princeton held a 10-point lead at the break, and the Tigers staved off a 16-0 Cornell run in the second half to walk away with the victory.
“We knew how much the game meant to Coach Earl,” Gettings said. “But unfortunately we came up short of a win.”
“We just need to get to that point where we believe in each other,” Earl added. “We can play for 30 something minutes with basically every team in the league but it might just be the fact that when you have to lock down and come up with something at the end of the game we’re not there yet. We’re a work in progress.”
Both Gettings and Earl have stressed the need to stretch the small bursts of solid play into a 40-minute performance. The men have shown signs of top-team potential, but late collapses have plagued the team as of late.
“It’s painful to sort of keep losing like this,” Earl added.
Penn, however, was a game in which Cornell never really had a fighting chance. The Quakers held the Red to a mere 14 points at half, while scoring 42 of their own. Cornell outscored Penn by nine in the second half, but the hole was too deep to climb out of.
“We have had difficulty putting together a solid 40 minutes of basketball,” Gettings said. “But I feel that with each game we play, we are getting closer and closer to playing a game without any defensive lapses.”
Turnovers were the story in game two of the weekend. Cornell handed Penn the ball on 22 separate occasions, and the hosts of the inaugural Ivy League postseason tournament made sure to let its Ithaca rivals pay on almost every change of possession.
Now, Cornell hits the road yet again to take on two teams; Harvard near the top and Dartmouth at the bottom of the league. The top four teams in the league will make the postseason tournament at the Palestra, and Cornell currently sits tied for fifth along with three other teams — one of which is the Green.
But if the Red has any hopes of continuing play after the regular season finale at Brown on March 4, this weekend will be pivotal for keeping its head afloat.
“We just need to come together and play as a team instead of individuals,” Gettings said. “We play our best basketball when we play as a team and have shown we can play with anyone. Hopefully, it comes together for us, and we can make a run these last six games that will give us an opportunity to play in the Ivy Tournament at the end of the year.”