Following a pair of bitter losses to Princeton and Penn last weekend, the Cornell men’s basketball team will continue its road series this weekend when it visits Hanover Friday and Cambridge Saturday with the hopes of snapping its current four-game losing streak.
The Red (6-17, 2-6 Ivy) will start the weekend against a hard-fighting Dartmouth team (5-16, 2-6) before traveling to Cambridge to tip off against Harvard (14-7, 6-2) Saturday at 7 p.m. Currently in a four-way tie for fifth in the league — with only the top-four receiving spots at the inaugural Ivy League tournament in Philadelphia — the Red is facing must-win games in this weekend’s encounters with New England entering the regular season’s home stretch.
In the Red’s last outing against Dartmouth, sophomore guard Matt Morgan contributed 22 points to decisively stamp the sixth “W” in the Red’s win column. Although Dartmouth’s standout sophomore forward and former Ivy League Rookie of the Year Evan Boudreaux led the last matchup with a high of 23 points, the Red’s collective team performance and dominant defensive effort ultimately held the Green off, giving Cornell a 75-62 victory at Newman Arena.
When asked about the challenges in matching up against Boudreaux for a second time this season — who’s currently averaging 16.7 points per game and grabbing 9.3 boards per game — Morgan hopes the lessons learned from last outing carry over to this weekend.
“I think playing them for a second time, they’ve scouted us — we’ve scouted them — it’ll just be adjusting to how they play us,” he said. “Dartmouth is a great team and Boudreaux is a great player, and so we have to make sure we lock-in on defense especially against him.”
Leading the team with 17.3 points and 4.8 boards per game for the Red, sophomore forward Stone Gettings echoed Morgan’s sentiments about how to approach Dartmouth a second time around.
“[Boudreaux] is definitely a focal point of their offense,” he said. “Harvard and Dartmouth play a lot in transition so we have to make sure that we’re talking and matching up in transition defense so that they don’t get easy buckets.”
In terms of preparing for the Crimson, Gettings noted the large personnel groups that the Red will be matched up against. Harvard’s roster boasts several players over six-foot-10, while Cornell’s lacks a consistent contributor taller than six-foot-eight.
“They’re so long, they have guys that they’ll play at the same time so we just have to be patient overall to make sure we get what we want,” Gettings continued. “Bryce Aiken killed us last time so definitely limiting his shots [is key] … he’s gonna shoot regardless but [we need to] make sure that the shots that he takes are tough shots.”
Although the Red shot 55 percent from the field in its last battle against the Crimson, the freshman Aiken led the boys from Cambridge with 21 points to a final minute comeback in front of the Newman crowd.
Since its last victory over Dartmouth on Jan. 28, the Red has struggled to show the experience and technical execution required to produce wins late in the second half. Furthermore, in three out of the last four away games, the Red has dug itself a hole, starting the second half with a deficit. The largest of which was the 28-point difference Cornell faced last weekend against Penn.
However, the of lack execution in the final minutes is an element that all members of the team, including head coach Brian Earl, appear very cognizant of and are eager to correct in this weekend’s slate.
“We watched the video of when we were up against Harvard with three minutes to go, we were down one against Yale with two minutes to go, we were within one of Columbia here, so we watch those games and we just say here’s what we’re doing, here’s what they’re doing, and this is what we need to tighten up to win,” he said.
Along with coaching the final minutes up in the film room, Earl also added that the team has been running through more end-of-game situations during practice to better prepare the guys for the real deal.
“I’m not a huge ra ra and pump-up guy … I just feel like I played this way and I’ve always coached [to] just do your best on the next possession, or do your best in practice here,” Earl added. “If we win the rest of our games, everything will take care of itself. We’ve hung better with the top three teams in our league than the rest of our league, so the personnel is there and our play is there it’s just a matter of shoring it together.”
If the Red hopes to deliver losses to both Dartmouth and Harvard this weekend the team will not only have to scrap on defense and hunt on offense for the first 37 minutes of the game, but will also have to dominate in the final three minutes to snap a four-game skid.
“If we lose another one our [postseason] chances go down significantly,” Gettings said. “[We have to] make sure we play like our lives depend on it. Because they do.”