When a 21-point lead was cut to a just a single point in the final minute against Toledo, the Cornell men’s basketball team certainly knew what they were grateful for this Thanksgiving: the game clock.
For the second time in the young 2017-18 season, Cornell (2-3) nearly gave up a game after amassing a 20-point lead. Fortunately, like the win over Binghamton, the Red weathered the storm with some timely hoops and key defensive stops en route to an 80-77 victory over the Rockets at Newman Arena Friday night.
“It’s something that we need to address, but I don’t think it’s something that can be changed overnight,” head coach Brian Earl said of maintaining leads. “As we become a little more competitive in games, we’ll begin to understand how to take a lead and keep it. But it’ll have to be a process.”
Much of the late-game run stemmed from Toledo’s change in defensive schemes, Earl said. While Cornell ran an efficient man offense in the first half, the Rockets were able to stymie it late-game with a series of switches and by running a zone defense.
“They started switching on every screen, so that was their game plan,” Earl said. “There’s not many things you can do to combat that aside from getting a little bit of a mismatch and getting to the rim.
As Cornell lost its offensive flow, a few players put it on themselves to help the Red pull out the win. Sophomore forward Josh Warren scored six of his 11 points in crunch time, including two key putbacks. Junior guard Matt Morgan also patiently controlled much of the late-game tempo, running out much of the shot clock before beginning the offensive possession.
“We’re building a little bit of a resilience,” Earl said. “At the end of the game you’re playing the opponent as much as you’re playing the clock. We were just trying to manage the time and get out of there with a win.”
Despite the late-game drama, Cornell put together a complete team effort in the opening 30 minutes. Morgan paced the offense with 24 points, while junior forward Stone Gettings added 21, including a career-high five 3-pointers. As a whole, the Red shot 56 percent from the field and 43 percent from 3-point land.
“We played with a lot more effort than we played with a couple days ago against UMass Lowell,” Earl said. “We got a lot more shots in our own building [and] we played a little bit harder which put us in a position to beat a very good team.”
While the final minutes were scrappy, the win over Toledo serves as a nice bounce back from the Red’s recent two-game skid. Looking ahead, a major focus of the team will be addressing how to respond when teams change their defensive schematics.
“We’ve identified what teams will do when they can’t guard us man to man,” Earl said. “We’ve just got to keep hammering away at that at practice.”
The Red heads back on the road this Monday when its travels to Pittsburgh to take on Duquesne at 7 p.m.