The men’s basketball team is heading into its final weekend of the season with one goal in mind: make it to the Ivy League tournament.
With in-conference tilts at Harvard and Dartmouth ahead, the Red has a chance to earn a bid into the conference playoff, which determines the team that receives an automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA tournament. After a tough loss to Yale and a well-executed win against Brown last weekend, the Red sits in a tie for fourth place with Columbia. The Red will need a loss from the Lions this weekend in order to have a chance at the tournament.
The team has been focused largely on the defensive end of the court — for good reason. The Red is currently last in defensive rating, allowing the most points per game out of any team in the Ivy League. Cornell seemed to turn the corner defensively after last weekend’s strong showings against Yale and Brown.
“The focus on defense was amazing,” said star junior guard Matt Morgan last weekend. “Offensively we know we can score when we want to if we play the right way and share the ball, but defensively is where we really need to step up. After Yale that was one of the keys [for us].”
The Red’s other focus has been relieving some of the offensive pressure from the shoulders of Morgan and junior forward Stone Gettings — the team’s leading scorers. Although the two have put up some healthy numbers this season, opposing teams are starting to key in on the duo, sending double teams and faceguards their way. After a very balanced offensive attack against Brown, junior forward Steven Julian commented on his newfound offensive prowess.
“Other teams are focusing more on [Morgan] and [Gettings],” Julian said. “So … I needed to step up.”
Morgan explained his philosophy of encouragement with his teammates, saying he and Gettings have tried to push the other players to take offensive initiative.
“Every day we get on [the other players] telling them to shoot the ball,” Morgan said. “It takes so much pressure off me and Stone and we love seeing them score. It gives us a better chance to win and it spaces out the defense.”
With the conference tournament and the end of the regular season rapidly approaching, there is a heightened sense urgency in the air. Every possession, every shot and every game becomes that much more important — a fact head coach Brian Earl is acutely aware of.
“Being [a head coach], I’m starting to realize how important this tournament is,” Earl said. “It keeps guys motivated … and all we can do right now is practice and play hard.”
The team is trying to block this tension and pressure from its mindset this week. With two potentially season deciding games on tap, the team is trying to take a step back and focus on one game at a time.
“We know we can’t control what everybody else does, only what we do,” Morgan said. “We just have to go on the road and finish out the season the right way.”
Tip off is at 7 p.m. Friday at Harvard and 7 p.m. Saturday at Dartmouth.
Ben Shi ‘21 contributed reporting to this article.