Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Matt Morgan might be this season's main story, but his teammates, like Steven Julian (pictured), are the Red's key to success.

February 14, 2019

COTTON | Come On Out, Newman Nation

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Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of games left to be played … but who saw this one coming?

Picked to finish sixth in the preseason media poll, the Cornell men’s basketball team used a 2-0 weekend to catapult itself into second place in the Ivy League. The Red (12-10, 4-2 Ivy) had already knocked off last year’s champion in Penn and can now, after this past weekend, add this season’s former frontrunner Harvard to its list of victims.

So the least you could do this weekend is show them some of that “Big 10 heart” Cornellians love to tout.

Expectations were not exceedingly high surrounding the 2018-19 edition of Cornell basketball. The team had lost one of its top big-men in Stone Gettings to Arizona. On paper, the Red was undersized compared to most of its competition and didn’t boast the most formidable supporting cast surrounding senior sensation Matt Morgan.

Yet someway, somehow, head coach Brian Earl has his players performing at a high level, night in and night out. Cornell was by no means dominating its non-league opponents, dropping some games to beatable opponents. But once Jan. 19 came along and the Ivy season was underway, the Red took things up a notch.

After splitting two close games with Columbia, Cornell topped Penn, lost to Princeton in overtime, eked out a win at Dartmouth and took down the Crimson the following night.

Along the way, Morgan became the second-leading scorer in Ivy League history — yes, you read that right — and contributed a career-best 41 points in Hanover. The North Carolina-native is truly outstanding. He deals with double — if not triple — teams every game and somehow creates open looks for himself and his teammates. He is remarkably efficient, too. He went 9-for-11 from beyond the arc against the Big Green and is shooting nearly 55 percent from the field in Ivy play thus far. Overall, he’s averaging 23.5 points per game to lead the league. It remains to be seen whether he has a legitimate shot to be drafted come June, but he’s certainly making a strong case.

Morgan has not done it alone, though. Junior Josh Warren, senior Steven Julian and sophomore Jimmy Boeheim were key in the Red’s comeback victory over Harvard, and fellow senior starter Joel Davis has contributed as well. The team has certainly struggled on the glass at times this year — the Red ranks dead last in the league in rebounding and points scored — but the effort is there on the glass and the team’s forwards are finding ways to get the job done. Considering their size, their rebounding numbers could be much worse.

Although Cornell qualified for the four-team Ivy tournament a year ago — and lost in the first round — this year’s group has already won as many games as last year’s did over the course of the entire season. That number is sure to go up, but the team still has work to do. The group has to get better offensively and find ways to score points in case Morgan has an off night.

Next up on the slate is a pair of home games against Brown (14-8, 2-4) and current first-place Yale (15-4, 5-1) at Newman Arena. Given the team’s recent success, it’s now time for the fans to show up.

Having played three Ivy games so far at home, the team has drawn around 1,700 fans in each contest. That number is not terrible, but it’s a far cry from the arena’s 4,500-seat capacity. And while I’m by no means comparing this team to the one that consistently sold out Newman back in 2010 — and happened to make the Sweet Sixteen along the way — the players’ hard work and impressive results should be rewarded by the Cornell fan base.

So come out on Friday and Saturday nights and cheer on an upstart men’s basketball team that features the Ivy League’s best player and a host of solid complimentary pieces. After all, the hockey team is on the road this weekend.