By Brian Delaney
February 15, 2011
It seemed like odd timing that on Jan. 29, after his team beat Cornell by 21 points, Harvard coach Tommy Amaker went out of his way to commend the job coach Bill Courtney has done in his first season at Cornell.
In a difficult situation, Amaker said, game film -- and quite a few seasons in the sport -- told him Courtney was still getting consistent, tough efforts out of a team that wasn't seeing results in the win column.
The timing felt odd, if only because one night earlier the Big Red had laid an egg, effort-wise, in a lopsided loss against a rebuilding Dartmouth program. The losses had been mounting, and it was certainly understandable to begin wondering if Cornell's players were going to hit a mental wall.
But Amaker has since been proven correct. After two straight weekends of obvious improvement, Cornell will take the floor Friday night against Harvard as a dangerous threat to Amaker's team's Ivy League championship hopes.
Cornell is coming off an 82-71 overtime win against Penn and a 57-55 loss to league-leading Princeton (19-4, 7-0). Harvard is in second place at 18-4 and 7-1. Against the Tigers, despite obvious mismatches at certain positions, Cornell defended with energy and passion and took away several of Princeton's top scoring options.
"We played a game against the best team in the league where we didn't make shots, and we still were right there with a chance to win it," Courtney said Saturday. "So I'm definitely proud of our kids.
"I just feel like we're getting better," he added. "I feel like we have to continue to work one day at a time, one game at a time, one week at a time. What I told the kids all week was build on last week, and I think we did that."
Princeton coach Sydney Johnson had a similar take.
"Especially the last three or four ball games, they've been playing obviously better ball," he said. "They've gotten results that are good for them; they create problems in that they still have all those shooters. Errick Peck is a really good player; the big guys play their roles well, set good screens ... (get) offensive rebounds. They are starting to put it all together, and it's interesting because they graduated three all-Ivy kids, so I think it takes some time to replace that. It seems to me that time is now. They're really coming together as a group."
* Cornell's Most Important Person over the next calendar year, as it pertains to men's basketball, will be the team's strength and conditioning coach: Jay Andress.
The only things holding back sophomores Eitan Chemerinski and Josh Figini, specifically, are game experience and upper body strength. The game experience is coming now. With time, so will the strength.
Both are listed in the 6-8, 6-9 and 205-pound range. With 20-25 extra pounds, spearheaded by the popular and demanding Andress, Cornell will have two quality big men in the coming years.
* In Saturday's win over Cornell, Princeton was held under 60 points for the first time this season. Tigers guard Dan Mavraides, who played only 18 minutes due to foul trouble, was held scoreless for the first time this season. He had scored in double figures in 19 of 22 games.
* At the midseason point of the Ivy League season, Princeton's Kareem Maddox is the pick here for player of the year. Maddox was at his best on both ends of the floor Saturday.
Consider his versatility: Sydney Johnson rotated Maddox, a 6-8 senior forward, on Cornell's three-point threats throughout the game. He guarded Drew Ferry, Chris Wroblewski, Errick Peck and Max Groebe, and the matchups forced Cornell to get its offense elsewhere on those possessions.
Defensively he finished with four blocks, and offensively he scored 23 points. Essentially all of his offense came inside. It was a credit to Cornell's swarming defense to force Maddox into five turnovers. It was a credit to Maddox to get the better of the Big Red the rest of the time.
"He's a very tough matchup," Courtney said. "I watched the tape of (Princeton-Harvard). Kyle Casey's one of the better athletes in our league, and he had a hard time guarding him. There's a not a lot we could have done differently with that guy. He's a very good player."
Maddox's skill set is unique for the Ivies. Johnson couldn't name a former Ivy player quite like the senior version of Maddox, who's much improved even from a year ago.
"For me, not many (are like him)," Johnson said. "Really, not many. I haven't seen it, just flat out. So we're glad he's on our team."
* Brown had command of the Ivy League's attention for about 75 minutes Saturday night, jumping out to a 24-point lead on Harvard and a 53-31 halftime advantage.
It took Harvard (18-4, 7-1) all of 11 minutes to erase a 24-point second half deficit (Brown scored the first bucket of the second half) before holding on to win 85-78.
The comeback was the largest in Harvard's history, second largest in Ivy League history, and fourth-largest in NCAA history. The largest comeback in Ivy history belongs to Princeton, which trailed Penn 40-13 in 1999 before coming back to win 50-49.
* Injury watch: Harvard junior guard Oliver McNally reportedly injured his ankle in Saturday's win over Brown. His status for Friday's game at Newman Arena is unknown.
* Oddity of the week: Brown scored 53 points and shot 64 percent in the first half Saturday. Harvard scored 54 points and shot 68 percent in the second half. Of the game's 163 points, 107 were scored on one side of the gym.