Despite a losing record in Ivy League play, this season Cornell men’s basketball was able to qualify for the Ivy League tournament and give its fans something to watch and cheer for in the playoffs. Although the Red were bounced from the tournament in the semifinals by top-seeded Harvard, 74-55, the team feels that its experience this year leaves it with nowhere to go but up.
“To experience the Ivy League tournament this year was huge for our team,” said junior guard Matt Morgan. “We are a very young team, and we are bringing almost everyone back next year, so just to get that experience is definitely going to be a building block going into next season.”
The Red came into the season ranked sixth in the Ivy League preseason media poll. However, the squad exceeded expectations despite having to rely on one of the youngest rotations in the conference.
Morgan built on his impressive sophomore season by averaging 22.5 points per game and nearly 50 percent shooting from the field, earning first team All-Ivy recognition for his impressive play.
Junior forward Stone Gettings broke out in his third season in Ithaca, ending the year second on the team in points and first in rebounding with just over six per game. He parlayed this success into a second team All-Ivy selection.
Newcomers such as freshman guard Terrance McBride and transfer junior forward Steven Julian helped the Red surpass last season’s sixth-place finish. McBride took over for senior guard Wil Bathurst in the starting lineup after Bathurst was injured just seven games into the year, and Julian brought energy and effort every game — attributes that the Red had sometimes lacked in previous years.
The Red did not get off to a strong start this season, dropping three of its first four games, but the team was able to rally and defeat two of its toughest opponents this season, Toledo and Duquesne, in back-to-back games. Those games marked the first winning streak in the Brian Earl era.
Cornell entered league play at 6-8 and quickly lost its first three Ivy games, all of which were on the road. At that point, making the Ivy tournament seemed like a long shot, but as they had all year, the Red were able to right the ship.
The Red ended up winning three of its next four matchups, re-establishing themselves as an Ivy League title contender. They were then able to win arguably their most important regular season game of the season, defeating Princeton at home 107-101 in a triple overtime thriller.
Heading into the final weekend of the year, the Red were on the bubble to make the Ivy League tournament. There were a myriad of scenarios that could send Cornell to the league tournament. After defeating Dartmouth, seeing Columbia lose to both Harvard and Dartmouth and Princeton lose to Yale, one of those scenarios was fulfilled and Cornell was sent to the dance in Philadelphia.
Next year, the Red will return its entire starting lineup and most of its key bench pieces. Additionally, Cornell will add incoming freshmen Matt Harshany and Kobe Dickson, as well as junior college transfer Chaz Mack.
“I don’t like to look too far into the future to determine what I think our goals for next season should be,” Earl said. “I am more worried about what our spring practices will look like and what our guys are going to be doing when they go home for the summer. The next few months will determine whether we are content being a fourth place team or if we want to outwork everybody else and finish atop the conference.”
While the Red appear to be trending upward, so does the Ivy League as a whole. There were no seniors on the entire first and second team All-Ivy selections. All eight members of the Ancient Eight will have a legitimate chance to qualify for the Ivy League tournament and earn the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament in 2019.