By Brian Delaney
January 21, 2011
An example of life in the only Division I basketball league without a conference tournament: not since the 1987-88 Cornell team has the eventual Ivy League men's champion opened league play with a loss.
The margin for error remains slimmer in the Ivies than any other conference, and after a league opening loss at Columbia last week, Cornell (4-11, 0-1 Ivy) can ill-afford getting swept Saturday when the Lions (10-5, 1-0) visit Newman Arena to finish off this home-and-home series.
Columbia won 79-75 last weekend in New York, getting 25 points from junior guard Noruwa Agho and 21 from sophomore point guard Brian Barbour.
"Practice has been pretty intense the last couple days," Cornell sophomore guard Miles Asafo-Adjei said. "We weren't expecting to come out with a loss. This weekend is definitely really, really important for us."
So much so that first-year coach Bill Courtney wrote an open letter this week to Cornell's Greek community, begging for extra student support.
A home crowd won't help if Cornell endures a similar stint of offensive futility. Columbia built a 14-point halftime lead last week during a stretch when Cornell managed two points in about 10 minutes. Foul trouble played a role, but so too did poor off-ball movement, shot selection and good Columbia defense.
In Round 2, both sides expect the other to make small adjustments. Sophomore Errick Peck said Cornell wants to make Columbia play faster. Several players specified the need to play smarter on defense. The Lions were in a good enough rhythm last week that they didn't run an offensive set more complex than a high pick-and-roll.
"Try to get in their face a lot more, create a lot more pressure," Peck said. "Speed them up a little bit. And Barbour likes to go to his right, so force him to go left. Make them actually run some plays instead of just coming down, (setting a) ball screen and just playing.
Agho leads the Ivy League in scoring (16.9 points per game) and is a viable player of the year candidate, but it's been Barbour's emergence, coupled with an improved supporting cast, that has made the Lions a much improved team.
"A lot of it is tipping your cap to them because they both had tremendous games," Courtney said. "They both hit contested shots with guys doing a pretty decent job of guarding them. But at the same time, we made some mistakes defensively that we have to correct."
Cornell's and Columbia's women's teams open Saturday's doubleheader at 2 p.m. The men's game will tip off around 4:30 p.m., and will be televised by Time Warner Cable.
Despite a record littered with close losses, Cornell's players believe they're capable of winning a fourth straight league championship.
After Saturday, the Big Red plays four straight on the road: at Dartmouth and Harvard on Jan. 28-29, with the Yale/Brown swing on Feb. 4-5. It is a critical stretch, its value will decrease if Cornell gets swept.
Junior guard Drew Ferry, who scored 23 points last weekend, said a consistent effort from start to finish would be timely.
At Newman Arena, Cornell
* Women: Columbia (1-13, 1-0 Ivy) at Cornell (3-12, 0-1), 2 p.m.
* Men: Columbia (10-5, 1-0) at Cornell (4-11, 0-1), 4:30 p.m.
Radio (men's game only): WVBR (93.5)
TV: Time Warner Ch. 11
Online (both games): Follow Brian Delaney's in-game twitter updates (@BDelaneyIJ) at www.ithacajournal.com/twitter.
Tickets: Reserved seats--$14; General admission--$10 adults, $9 seniors, $6 Cornell staff, children 12 and under.