Visits from Penn, Princeton to provide stiff tests
By Brian Delaney
February 11, 2011
ITHACA -- Aside from a disastrous two-minute stretch that players and coaches frankly labeled a "choke," Cornell played some of its best basketball on the road last weekend at Yale and Brown.
The task now is to carry the many positives from 78 quality minutes over to this weekend, or risk getting run off its own court. The Big Red (5-15, 1-5 Ivy League) welcomes Penn (9-10, 3-2) on Friday night before league-leading Princeton (17-4, 5-0) visits Newman Arena on Saturday.
"Our whole thing right now is to continue to build," Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. "We want to build not only on last week's win at Brown, but also the 38 minutes at Yale. We looked like the team we wanted to be."
Cornell fumbled a 10-point lead with two minutes left at Yale. Less than 24 hours later, the Big Red displayed high character -- one constant in a loss-ridden season of inconsistencies -- in a 91-79 win at Brown.
Penn knows heartbreak, too. The Quakers could be sitting at the top of the league standings if not for two straight overtime losses: a 62-59 defeat at Princeton on Tuesday, which followed an 83-82 double OT loss against Harvard last Saturday.
"They're a real hungry team," Courtney said. "They've realized how good they can be. With the exception of 10 seconds, maybe, they're the number one team in this league. The seniors they have, the juniors they have, they expect to be (contending)."
One of the notable developments for the Big Red last weekend was improved bench play.
Sophomore Johnathan Gray reached double figures in both games, and hit multiple clutch 3's in the Brown win. He last scored double figures in the season opener. Junior Max Groebe had 11 points and six boards off the bench against Brown. Sophomore Eitan Chemerinski rebounded well and got to the free throw line repeatedly in both games. He scored 18 points on the weekend.
"Coach knows that everyone here on this team can score," Gray said. "We've got a lot of different guys, it's just a matter of getting those guys into a game and trying to get comfortable. Get out on the floor, get a rhythm and be aggressive."
For Gray and Groebe in particular, that rhythm begins on the defensive end, Courtney said. Defensive lapses have, at times, cost both extended minutes.
Penn has two of the better offensive players in the league in 6-1 junior point guard Zack Rosen and 6-8 senior Jack Eggleston. Eggleston, in particular, is playing at a higher level than he has in the past. In five Ivy League games, he's averaging more than 17 points and eight rebounds while shooting well over 50 percent from both the field and the three-point arc.
"Eggleston's having a tremendous year," Cornell point guard Chris Wroblewski said. "I think he's shooting 50 percent, which makes him dangerous. He's that inside-outside kind of threat. We're going to have to pay major attention to that, too."
Penn's biggest hole last year -- a quality off-guard to take the burden off Rosen -- has developed in the form of freshman Miles Cartwright. In his first half as a college basketball player, Cartwright scored 18 points and helped Penn to a win over Davidson. A few weeks later, he scored 22 points in a loss to nationally ranked Pittsburgh.
"He adds a big level of athleticism to their team," Courtney said. "He's super quick and a very aggressive player. He allows them to get some fastbreak opportunities. By himself, he's sometimes a one-man fast break. He's also fearless."
Princeton, which returns its top five scorers from last year's team that played Cornell to a pair of three-point losses, has been rock steady. It already has home wins over Harvard and Penn, and will need to navigate an Ivy schedule with seven of its last nine games on the road to capture its first championship since 2004.
The Tigers boast one of the league's biggest rotations, starting 6-11 Brendan Connolly, 6-7 sophomore Ian Hummer and 6-8 junior Patrick Saunders, with 6-9 sophomore Mack Darrow and 6-8 senior Kareem Maddox coming off the bench. Maddox is one of the league's most well-rounded players.
"They do present some matchup problems for us," Courtney said. "You've got to attack what they do and take them out of what they do and try and guard what they do. For us, unfortunately, we don't get a ton of time to prepare for it."
Cornell does have a pair of quality efforts to build off. Gray said the team still believes it can knock off any opponent, a quality that lingers from last season's success.
"As far as the Ivy League goes, we still believe we can come out on top as far as any given night," he said. "You have two quality opponents in Penn and Princeton. They're coming to our home. We want to put on a show, we want to play well in front of our home crowd and give them something to cheer for."
Matchup: Penn (9-10, 3-2 Ivy League) at Cornell (5-15, 1-5), 7 p.m., Friday
Radio: WVBR (93.5).
Coach: Jerome Allen (1st season, 9-10)
Last time out: Penn lost in the league in overtime for the second straight game, dropping a 62-59 OT decision at Princeton on Tuesday night. The Quakers were up one with under a minute remaining when a player called timeout when the team didn't have one; Princeton tied the game with a technical free throw, stole an inbounds pass, got immediately fouled and made two free throws to take the lead for good.
Probable starters: Zack Rosen (6-1, 175, Jr., G), Miles Cartwright (6-3, 170, Fr., G), Tyler Bernardini (6-6, 205, Sr., F), Jack Eggleston (6-8, 215, Sr., F), Conor Turley (6-7, 220, Sr., F/C).
Key reserves: Zack Gordon (6-6, 215, Sr., F), Mike Howlett (6-9, 215, Jr., C), Fran Dougherty (6-8, 230, Fr., F).
Statistically: In Ivy play, Eggleston is averaging 17.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, is shooting 62 percent from the field and 59 percent from the three-point arc (10 for 17). ... Rosen was a first-team all-league selection as a junior. On the season, he's Penn's leading scorer (14.6 ppg). ... Bernardini, who missed the majority of the 2009-10 season with a foot injury, is averaging 16 points in Ivy play while shooting at a 52 percent clip from behind the arc (13 for 25). ... Cartwright (11.7 ppg) has won Ivy rookie of the week four times this season.
Outlook: Penn is coming off a pair of emotionally draining losses: the aforementioned defeat at Princeton and Saturday's 83-82 double overtime loss at home to Harvard. In both cases, Penn erased large second-half deficits to force OT. The Quakers could easily be 5-0 and in first place. Now they have to embark on their first weekend road trip and attempt to keep pace with the Tigers (5-0) and Crimson (5-1).
Penn was the only Ivy team to beat Cornell last season, and has clearly gotten better. A healthy Bernardini, an improved Eggleston and a youthful Cartwright -- who has drawn comparison to Ibby Jaaber -- are the key reasons. Rosen is outstanding. Size-wise, Penn and Cornell are comparable. The key for Cornell will be, if the Big Red build a second-half lead, can they make it hold up? Cornell's had difficulty closing games out, and Penn's shown a better apt than most for comebacks.