Coming off of a heartbreaking 82-81 loss at Bryant on Sunday, Cornell men’s basketball came out with a vengeance early on Wednesday night at Newman Arena against the New Jersey Institute of Technology. However, it was a tale of two halves for the Red, who relinquished a 20-point second-half lead, allowing the visitors to storm back and steal a 59-58 victory in Ithaca.
“We work a lot on learning how to try to win games, so these two games give us good things to look at to see how to do that,” head coach Brian Earl said. “In the end, you would rather be 3-0 and celebrating instead of 1-2 and losing by two combined points.”
The Red came out of the gates strong, leading the entirety of the game until the final minute, when NJIT junior guard Zach Cooks hit a three-pointer from the corner to give the Highlanders a 55-54 lead.
The teams would trade baskets in the final 60 seconds, but ultimately, NJIT would have the last word, as senior guard Shyquan Gibbs would make a contested floater to seal the comeback for the road team.
Despite the loss, Cornell played its best half of the season on both ends of the floor in the first session, after suffering its first loss just three days prior.
The home team shot 46% from the field and held NJIT to just 20% shooting and no three-point makes before halftime. The strong play from the Red culminated in a 34-16 lead at halftime.
“I thought that we played a really good first half obviously, and did a lot of good things defensively, but in the second half we kind of just got tight and collapsed,” Earl said. “It is a tough lesson to take in the last two games, but we have to learn to finish, and we are obviously not close to accomplishing that.”
The script flipped in the second half, as the Highlanders methodically chipped away at the Red’s seemingly insurmountable lead during the final frame. Cornell actually took its largest advantage of the game — 20 points — with 17:30 remaining in the contest.
But after halftime, Cooks took his game to another level, willing his team, which had not won a game in 239 days, by scoring 16 of his game-leading 22 points in the second half, including the aforementioned go-ahead three-pointer.
NJIT outscored the Red 43-24 in the second half, shooting 57% from the field and limiting Cornell to just one three-pointer out of its final 16 attempts.
Cooks, who played 39 minutes of the game, was aided in the comeback by sophomore forward Souleymane Diakite’s 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Cornell’s star through the team’s first two games, junior forward Jimmy Boeheim, was nearly invisible the entire night, missing eight of nine field goal attempts and ending the evening with five points. He had averaged 22 points per game in Cornell’s first two contests.
Additionally, senior forward Thurston McCarty, who came into the game shooting 64% from three-point range and averaged 14 points in the first two contests, was held scoreless and missed all four of his three-point attempts.
The Red was led offensively by junior guard Terrance McBride’s 17 points; he also contributed four steals.
“We struggled scoring in the second half, so I tried to take it upon myself to get the team good shots,” McBride said. “I thought that I had the opportunity to score, so I took advantage of it.”
Senior forward Josh Warren chipped in with 14 points and eight rebounds, and sophomore guard Dean Noll provided a spark off the bench with nine points, but it was not enough to move Cornell above the .500 mark.
“Well, ultimately we lost so it would have been nice to make a few more plays, but I just tried to play within our offense,” Warren said. “We had a nice first half, we just missed shots in the second half, which was the main factor in why we lost.”
The Red will look to right the ship when they travel to DePaul on Saturday at 1 p.m.