A pair of losses in Hanover and Cambridge – it’s been a while since a Cornell coach has had to give a pep talk after that type of Ivy League weekend. Ten years to be exact.

The last time Cornell was swept by Dartmouth and Harvard came during former head coach Steve Donahue’s first season (2000-2001). The last time the Red was swept by their travel partner, Columbia, was during Donahue’s second year. The last time both happened in the same season was B.D. (Before Donahue).

In year 1 A.D., Cornell (4-14, 0-4 Ivy) seems to be finding it’s way into the school’s record books for all the wrong reasons. Coming off a weekend with a pair of league losses by a combined 28 points, it should be tough to be optimistic. Somehow though, the future does not seem so bleak for the Red on the other end of one of the worst league weekends for Cornell Basketball in recent memory.

Sure, there are still gaping holes in this year’s squad. A consistent post presence has yet to be established. Leading scorer Chris Wroblewski is banged up, as is most of the roster. In the second half at Harvard, freshman guard Jake Matthews even took an elbow to the face from a referee. At times the Red seems lost on offense, lacking a go-to scorer who can create for himself. Defensively, Cornell has trouble fighting through screens and hedging effectively without giving up open jumpers or the smooth pick-and-roll.

Any 14-loss team has deficiencies. But this 14-loss team seems to have hope too.

“Effort” and “focus,” two areas in which Courtney thought his squad struggled during the first game of the weekend were not problems at Harvard. The Red played as hard as they have all year. Errick Peck, who hadn’t been able to keep food down for 24 hours leading up to the game and was winded after one trip down the court due to a stomach bug, managed to grit out 15 points and three well-earned offensive boards. Any questions of his heart and maturity were answered on Saturday.

On the glass, the Red won the rebound battle for just the second time this year despite going up against one of the Ivy’s best frontcourts.

Matthews played the best ball of his young career, posting a personal best 6 points and 3 rebounds while playing 24 minutes in his first collegiate start. The freshman played tough defense on the 6-foot-5, 205 pound Christian Webster for long stretches despite giving up three inches and 65 pounds to the Harvard wing.

Miles Asafo-Adjei often struggles to find his shot, but against the Crimson his aggressive play earned him 7 points. While he was just 3-for-9 from the field he pulled down two of his own misses on the offensive glass.

Eitan Chemerinski played just five minutes, but logged a career-high five points in the limited action and provided some timely interior scoring for the Red.

More important than individual contributions though was an edge and intensity that the Red found in Cambridge. Strings of close losses seemed to deflate Courtney’s group and perhaps that showed on Friday night at Dartmouth. But on Saturday, we saw a different squad.

There were fewer boneheaded mistakes, fewer missed defensive assignments and noticeably fewer timeouts where Courtney walked into the huddle with his hands in the air and shoulders shrugged as if to say, “What else can I do?”

The talent for Harvard was undeniable. Keith Wright played with the back-to-the-basket strength of a five, the explosiveness of a four and the handles of a three. Kyle Casey was bouncy as usual and provided matchup problems for the Red all night. On the perimeter Brandyn Curry, Laurant Rivard and Christian Webster shot the ball well. In the second half Curry was able to penetrate at will to set up his teammates. Junior captain Oliver McNally played distributor for the night too, matching Curry with seven assists.

The consensus on the Cornell bench was that despite losing an NBA guard in Jeremy Lin, the Crimson are improved this year. And playing what looked like a league-championship caliber team, the Red was dealt its most lopsided loss since falling to Seton Hall by 24 at the Prudential Center in mid-November.

Longtime Cornell Basketball broadcaster Barry Leonard noted a strange feeling after the game though. “I’ve never felt optimistic after a loss before,” he said, with a more hopeful tone this time around.

The feeling seemed to be a common one in the program. Courtney made a point of mentioning the pride he had in the way his team played in Cambridge, just one night after ripping them for a lack of effort at Dartmouth in a seven-point defeat.

Courtney wasn’t the only coach addressing the Big Red after the road sweep though. Donahue was in the stands following a nearby practice with his Boston College Eagles and spoke with his old squad after the game upon Courtney’s request.

Wroblewski described it as a “stick together, play for your teammates” speech that the Red had become accustomed to in recent years under Donahue.

According to Courtney, Donahue “said it perfect.”

After all, Donahue was speaking from experience. Ten years ago, as a rookie head coach, he stood in Lavietes Pavillion facing a similarly downtrodden Cornell squad. In the nine years following that night though, he steered the Red clear of any similar fates.

Young coaches with young systems and young players will struggle. The man largely credited with resurrecting Cornell Basketball did for years. But hindsight tells us that 10 years ago, despite a 7-20 finish with just three league wins2, there was hope for the Red. And leaving the gym on Saturday night, somehow, there seemed to be hope as well.