In its first action since the graduation of stars Matt Morgan and Steven Julian, as well as role players Jack Gordon, Joel Davis and Troy Whiteside, Cornell defeated upstate New York foe Binghamton, 84-64, at Newman Arena in each team’s season opener.
Coming into the game, the Red knew that it would have to rely on the big man duo of junior forward Jimmy Boeheim and senior forward Josh Warren to provide scoring, rebounding and defense. The pair did not disappoint, as Boeheim led the team in scoring with 24 points on 57.9% shooting. Warren added 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
“It’s always really exciting to start the year with a win, especially in front of our home fans,” Boeheim said. “Everyone contributed well, so this was very encouraging for us.”
Junior guards Terrance McBride and Bryan Knapp were also expected to take on bigger roles on this relatively inexperienced Cornell squad. Both did their part Tuesday night to help the Red to its first victory of the season.
McBride, the team’s primary ball handler, allowed Boeheim and Warren to operate around the basket and chipped in with 15 points himself.
Although Knapp ended the night with just two points, he was tasked with guarding Binghamton’s star guard Sam Sessoms. He held Sessoms, the reigning America East rookie of the year and Binghamton’s leading scorer last season, to only six points on 20% shooting.
“Prior to the game, we were really focused on stopping Sessoms. He is a really talented player, so it was very important for us to limit his scoring and playmaking,” head coach Brian Earl said. “They have a lot of new players as well, so I am honestly happy that we played them in the first game of the season because I expect their team to improve greatly as the year goes on.”
Earl decided to experiment with a different number of lineup combinations throughout the night, as nine players saw extended action.
Senior Thurston McCarty, a former junior college transfer who played sparingly last season, was thrust into the starting lineup and delivered for Earl. McCarty made three 3-pointers and had three blocks along with six rebounds.
Monmouth graduate transfer Pierre Sarr led the way for the Bearcats with 16 points; however, he was relegated to the bench for most of the second half due to foul trouble.
Binghamton and Cornell traded baskets early in the first half, but after Boeheim made a three-pointer to give the Red an 11-8 lead, the home team never looked back and maintained its advantage the rest of the way.
Cornell shot an impressive 56.3% from the field in the first half, and 51.6% for the game. Perhaps the most notable statistic for the night was that the Red went 13-for-15 from the free throw line, an area where the team somewhat struggled last year.
“Ultimately, guys stepped up and made shots, which has to happen if you are going to win consistently at this level,” Earl said. “But that was only able to happen because guys were able to move the ball well and find open teammates.”
Additionally, Cornell outrebounded Binghamton, 38-29, despite a decisive height advantage for the visitors. Boeheim, McCarty, Warren and sophomore Dean Noll all had more than five rebounds on the night.
“We’re somewhat undersized, especially compared to a team like that, so it was really just about effort and helping each other out,” Warren said. “We’ve put a lot more of a focus on rebounding this year, and it definitely showed up tonight.”
The Red executed its defensive game plan nearly flawlessly in the second half, limiting the Bearcats to 35.7% shooting and forcing seven turnovers after halftime.
The Red will look to move to 2-0 on the season when it travels to Bryant on Sunday for the team’s first road contest of the 2019-20 season. The squad will return home next Wednesday when it hosts NJIT.