Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ithaca Journal Previews Cornell at Penn State

Illinois center Meyers Leonard is fouled by Cornell guard Galal Cancer, who had five points, four assists and three steals Monday night.

On its first stop of a five-game, 15-days road trip, the Cornell men's basketball team turned quite a few heads, but couldn't pull off a big time upset.

The Big Red fell just short of shocking No. 25/24 Illinois at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill., Monday evening, as a frustrated Illini team rallied for a last minute 64-60 victory after being forced to play catch-up for most of the game.

Cornell (4-5) coach Bill Courtney will take pride in knowing his squad competed for a full 40 minutes against arguably the toughest opponent it will face on this trip. His attention now switches to Penn State, which welcomes the Big Red to the Byrce Jordan Center in State College, Pa. Wednesday for a 7:30 p.m. tip-off.

"I was definitely pleased with our effort," Courtney said. "I wouldn't say it was a moral victory because I don't think there are any of those, but our guys came ready to play and I thought we had long stretches where we played really well. You learn things in each game whether you win or lose. You just have to tip your hat to them for the plays they made down the stretch, but also to the effort put in by our guys."

Cornell made its intentions clear from the get go Monday, hitting five of its first seven shots from three-point range on its way to a 10-point lead midway through the first half. After going into halftime tied at 32-32, the Big Red continued to put the pressure on Illinois (11-1), answering every Illini basket and taking a six-point lead on a short jumper by junior Johnathan Gray with 12:57 left.

There were five ties and three lead changes in a back and forth final 10 minutes. Freshman and Ivy League co-Rookie of the Week Galal Cancer gave the Big Red a 58-56 advantage with 2:25 remaining on a driving layup, before Illinois tied the score the next trip down the floor, took a two-point lead with 1:07 left, and iced the game on a 17-foot jumper with the shot clock winding down and less than 20 seconds remaining.

Cornell junior center Josh Figini tied his career high with 14 points, all in the first nine minutes of the game, while senior Chris Wroblewski, making a return to his home state, added 10 points, six rebounds, four assists and a steal.

For the second game in a row, Cancer turned in a strong all-around performance off the Big Red bench, tallying five points, four assists and three steals in 27 minutes

As a team, Cornell hit 10 3-pointers and committed a season-low 10 turnovers, although it was held to just 39.3 percent shooting and was out-rebounded 42 to 25.

Illinois was led by 7-foot-1 sophomore and NBA prospect Meyers Leonard, who tallied 19 points, three blocks and a career-high 16 rebounds.

Penn State is 7-5 despite losing three of its last four games. One thing going for the Nittany Lions is the recent play of junior guard Tim Frazier, whom Courtney describes as a "terrific player" and after performances of 27, 26 (twice) and 22 points in the early season is averaging 17.2 points and 7.3 assists.

Aside for game-planning on how to defend Frazier, Courtney also will be busy figuring out how best to rest his players amid a multitude of plane and bus rides interspersed with practice time.

To make matters more difficult, junior guard and defensive spark plug Miles Asafo-Adjei was unable to suit up against Illinois because of a lower leg infection that required hospitalization, and remains in Champaign with an assistant coach. Due to the shortened guard rotation, Wroblewski logged 38 minutes and Ferry 34 against the Illini, something Courtney knows could catch up to his players.

"It's a unique challenge," Courtney said. "We have to try to find the best way to rest guys while still practicing and improving and keeping everyone sharp. It definitely takes its toll, but we'll do what we need to get the best out of our guys."

» Notes: Wroblewski has been named one of 65 candidates for the 2011-12 Bob Cous

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