In what the players and coaches classify as their most essential weekend of the season, Cornell men’s basketball will host Princeton on Friday and Penn Saturday.
Currently sitting in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Ivy League, the squad is just one game back of Brown and Yale, who are knotted up at 4-4 in the fourth position. The top four teams in the league will advance to the Ivy League Tournament on March 10-11, and the winner of that tournament will earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
“This is the most important weekend of the year,” said junior forward Stone Gettings. “We have been pretty locked in during practice all week, and I think that we have a really good shot to have a successful weekend.”
After beginning league play with three consecutive losses, Cornell is coming off of its second consecutive split weekend.
In its first meeting of the season with the Quakers, the Red fell 69-61 at the Palestra. In that game, Gettings scored 20 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. Penn has consistently been one of the top teams in the league, beginning its Ivy schedule 7-0 before finally dropping a road matchup with Harvard last Saturday.
“We came up short at the Palestra, but the defensive intensity and the offensive focus were there,” said junior guard Matt Morgan. “Hopefully we can shoot a little bit better against them at home, but at the end of the day, it is all about getting stops on defense and making good decisions on offense.”
Just one night later, Cornell suffered a 37-point road defeat at the hands of the Tigers, in a game that saw the Red down by 34 at the half. Since the blowout, Princeton has struggled, falling in four of its last five league games.
“Looking back at that game, we had to be a lot better defensively, but Princeton also made plenty of really tough shots,” said head coach Brian Earl. “We had back-to-back efforts of really poor play against Princeton and Columbia, but I think that we have fixed that lack of competitiveness that was apparent in those two games.”
Earl, who played for the Tigers from 1995-1999 and was an assistant coach there from 2007-2016, is 0-3 as a head coach at Cornell against his alma mater.
“I don’t have any special feelings towards coaching against Princeton, for me, it is just another game,” Earl said. “There are other teams that I get more frustrated about from a basketball standpoint.”
After this weekend, the Red will have just four regular season games remaining, two at home and two on the road.
“The two games this weekend are so important for us because Princeton has been struggling recently,” Morgan said. “We need to be able to put our foot down on Friday. On Saturday, we are going to play one of the top teams in the Ivy League, and that is going to really be a statement game for us.”
The game against Princeton on Friday will tip off at 8 p.m., while the matchup with the Penn will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.