Over the past week, the Cornell men’s basketball team has played against Coppin State University, Keuka College and Virginia Tech, finding big victories against the first two opponents while falling to the Hokies.
The Red began its slate by posting a 92-77 win over the Coppin State Eagles (1-12, 0-0 MEAC), who despite their record, played hard and played with an intense hunger to find their first road win of the year. The Red fought off the Eagles’ two-headed monster of Jesse Zarzuela, who finished with 25 points, four rebounds and three assists, and Tyree Corbett, who posted a double-double with 23 points, 12 rebounds and one assist.
Sophomore forward Keller Boothby posted an impressive 21 points off the bench on 7-of-9 shooting — exclusively from 3-point land — to lead the Red in scoring. Junior forward Jordan Jones followed with 17 points of his own with senior guards Sarju Patel and Dean Noll contributing with double-digit scoring as well. This impressive shooting buoyed the Red to a 20-point lead at halftime.
“They didn’t play a traditional sort of man-to-man defense, so we took advantage a little bit in the first half,” said Head Coach Brian Earl.
The Red found itself leading by as much as 22 points with 8:20 remaining in the second half, but sloppy play led to the Eagles trimming the Red’s lead down to nine points.
“A lot of these teams have thrown something late at us when we’re up,” Earl said. “We need to learn how to roll with the punches when teams throw some of their last gasp stuff. I thought we did a not great job [at dealing with that] against Coppin.”
Only two days later, the Red picked up its eighth win of the season against Keuka College (0-8, 0-0 Empire 8), a Division 3 foe an hour west of Ithaca. The Red steamrolled past the Wolves, 122-64, winning in a historic fashion by setting the all-time school record for most points (122), most field goals (49) and most assists (41) in a single game.
The Red found itself up by as much as 62 points from an extremely balanced scoring attack, as freshman forward Guy Rayland Jr. led the team with only 17 points.
“It’s nice,” Earl said, of the team’s historic performance. ”I think we just need to be careful about not getting too high or low with these games. The guys have done what’s been asked of them for the most part, but I think there’s probably some tougher competition coming up ahead of us so we’re trying to keep on an even keel.”
The Red encountered much tougher sledding against Virginia Tech (7-3, 0-1 ACC), who handed the Red its second loss of the season. Although the Red has been shooting hot recently — earning its status as the second-highest scoring team in the nation — the Red cooled off in Blacksburg, Virginia. The team scored a season-low 60 points and only shot 38.5 percent from the field, as the Hokies won in dominant fashion by a score of 93-60.
“Particularly at Virginia Tech, you have high major players who played with a chip on their shoulder as they’ve lost a couple of good ones to really good teams,” Earl said.
The Hokies were coming off an 80-61 loss against Wake Forest and previously fell to No. 9-ranked Memphis by single digits and came up one point shy against No. 25 Xavier.
Although the Red (8-2, 0-0 Ivy League) has lost to the only two Power-5 teams that it has faced, the team has learned valuable lessons which will prove valuable as it gears up towards Ivy League Play.
“With these games, you get an idea for how hard and tough and athletic teams can be. If you ever want to be very good, you need to learn how to compete at that level for 40 minutes,” Earl said. “We have two classes of guys who have never played in an environment like that, and I think it was hopefully a good learning experience for them to know what it feels like at the top levels. We want to try to achieve that level one day.”
The team was slated to return to competition against Bryant University (4-6, 0-0 NEC) on Dec. 19, but that game has been canceled following the University’s shift to alert level red. The Red is still scheduled to face Syracuse University (5-4, 1-0 ACC) on Dec. 21 before the players return home for winter break.