For the first time in 25 years, the Cornell men’s basketball team has started their season with three straight wins and zero losses over Binghamton, Lafayette and Colgate.
“It’s been great. Our guys are really excited to bring that energy every night and that’s something we need with the way we’re playing,” said head coach Brian Earl as Cornell returned to competition after 621 days.
The Red began its season an hour south of Ithaca, playing at Binghamton University against the Bearcats. Cornell established great transition play and played fast-paced basketball, never relinquishing its early lead.
Within the first three minutes of the game, senior forward Kobe Dickson found a block, junior forward Jordan Jones grabbed a steal leading to his own three pointer and sophomore guard Chris Manon added a score.
“We’ve had a complete roster makeover; we’ve lost four starters, who transferred as seniors,” Earl said. “You have to look at who we are now, and we had that COVID year to figure that out so we have to make sure we’re playing hard all the time. Defense is a part of it, but transition offense is as well.”
Defense would become Cornell’s key to victory against Binghamton, as the team recorded 12 steals and forced 18 total turnovers, including a team leading three steals coming from Dickson.
The Red also held the Bearcats to 36 percent shooting on the night, holding Binghamton to only six three-pointers in 35 attempts, for a total three point field goal percentage of 17.1 percent. Offensively, Jones and Manon combined for 37 points in the 76-69 victory.
Three days later, the Red traveled to Easton, PA, to face the Lafayette Leopards. Although the Red found a similar outcome with a 90-85 victory, they played a very different brand of basketball, looking towards the three-point shot more often than usual, connecting on 12 of their 31 attempts from beyond the arc.
“In general, our guys know to take the best shot that the team can produce, so sometimes that’s the three point shot and luckily they went in against Lafayette,” Earl said.
Great things came in threes for Manon, who shot a perfect three for three from three, had three steals, and three assists. Manon and Jones tied for the team high in points with 19 a piece. The Red found three more double-digit contributors, including 12 points off the bench from sophomore forward Kellen Boothby.
Following the victory over Lafayette, the Red found its toughest matchup of the season so far in its home opener against interstate rival and defending Patriot League champion Colgate, who have bested Cornell in their last four contests.
Colgate started the game on a 9-0 run and found themselves up by 12 with just under four minutes to go in the first half. With their back against the wall, Cornell had a decision to make: Would they try to shoot out the gym as they had against Lafayette, or stick to their fast-paced style of play that got them the win against Binghamton?
“We just stuck with the way we play,” Earl said. “Sometimes, with us playing so fast there’s gonna be big runs both ways.” After scoring multiple points in the paint and on fastbreaks, the Red shortened its deficit to two points at the end of the half.
“Colgate’s one of the best coached teams in the country so they like to dictate the pace, but I think as long as we keep doing what we’re trying to do, we should be comfortable with the game being a little more volatile,” Coach Earl said.
After finding their footing, Cornell found themselves up by as much as 16 points in the second half by playing their brand of basketball: forcing turnovers on defense and finishing on the other end.
Even with their best start in 25 years, the Red has not moved its goal post for the rest of the season. “We don’t really talk about long term goals, we really just focus on what’s in front of us. We haven’t set any goals apart from trying to win the next possession, really.”
The Red will look to take its fourth consecutive win at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 19 against Division 3 foe Wells College at home.