By Brian Delaney
January 18, 2011
One of the marquee signs of a struggling basketball team is the repetition of mistakes. For Cornell, there's been zero improvement this season in the area of foul control.
The Big Red (4-11, 0-1 Ivy League) cost itself dearly Saturday at Columbia when its most three physical big men, Aaron Osgood, Mark Coury and Adam Wire, each picked up two fouls and were forced to sit for the stretches of 9:59, 11:21 and 6:25, respectively, in the first half.
Cornell coach Bill Courtney said after the game he didn't want to risk putting any of the three back in before halftime: he felt the likelihood of them picking up a third foul was too strong.
When Wire -- the last of the three -- subbed out, Columbia led 19-18. By halftime, the deficit was 37-23. Cornell eventually lost, 79-75.
Columbia made 22 of 26 free throws, on the strength of 23 Cornell fouls. Thirteen were committed in the second half, at what seemed like the most inopportune times.
Cornell thought it would be heading for a defensive stop before, boom, another whistle.
"We have to play defense without fouling," Courtney said.
The issues began on the perimeter. Columbia's guards were successful at penetrating and forcing Cornell's interior players to react. Point guard Brian Barbour was 7-for-7 from the line, and off-guard Noruwa Agho was 7-for-10. They combined for 45 points.
"Brian Barbour was very important for them because he did a great job of getting into the lane and drawing fouls," Courtney said.
Cornell hasn't been this foul-prone, statistically speaking, in 16 seasons. The 1994-95 team coached by Al Walker, which finished 9-17, averaged 24.6 fouls per game. Opponents averaged a ridiculous 31.5 free throw attempts per game.
The 2010-11 squad, through 15 games, has averages of 21.6 and 25.7, respectively. Those are well above Cornell's averages of the last 15 years, and are having a direct impact on outcomes as Courtney continually has to shuffle the lineup. As of Sunday's results, they were the worst such numbers among Ivy League teams.
Although it would be easy to point at Cornell's difficult non-league schedule strength as a weighted factor (playing teams with bigger, faster players), the numbers remain high against opponents of a similar ilk.
Columbia was the latest example.
The Lions visit Cornell at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. They'll try to attack Cornell with the same vigor they displayed Saturday night. It'll be Cornell's task to match that aggressiveness, but do so without the hacks. In its four wins, Cornell's foul average has been 16.
Against the Lions, that would be an immeasurable help.
* Harvard has two players ranked in the top six among Division I's top free throw shooters. Through Sunday's games, junior Oliver McNally was ranked second overall (.943), and freshman Laurent Rivard was ranked sixth (.930).
As a team, Harvard ranks No. 2 in Division I (.805).
* For the second straight week, Columbia's Noruwa Agho and Yale's Greg Mangano split the Ivy League's player of the week. Agho dumped 25 points on Cornell Saturday night, while earlier that day Mangano, a 6-foot-10 junior center, went for 23 points and 17 rebounds in the Bulldogs' win over Brown. He's now averaging a double-double on the season.
Through 10 weeks, only one senior -- Princeton's Kareem Maddox, who did it twice -- has won or shared a player of the week award.
That leads to a scary thought: in one of its strongest seasons to date, top to bottom, the league is only expected to get better.
* Cornell sophomore Errick Peck quietly put together one of his most efficient offensive efforts of the season Saturday in New York.
The 6-6 forward scored 14 points on 7-for-12 shooting over 33 minutes, to go along with six rebounds and a career-high three blocks. For the first time in 11 games, however, Peck did not attempt a free throw.
* Cornell's rebounding splits against Columbia were odd: the Big Red had a season-low 12 defensive rebounds, but grabbed on the offensive end. They didn't make enough of the extra opportunities, though, scoring just 16 second-chance points.
* Brown picked up a quality 87-78 win Monday over Quinnipiac (12-5), which owns wins over Rhode Island and Boston University (and a bad loss to Bryant). Sophomore Tucker Halpern scored 26 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Bears, who outrebounded Division I's top rebounding team, 35-33.