Monday, December 19, 2011

Ithaca Journal Recaps Albany, Previews Illinois

Cornell guts out another overtime win, takes on Illinois Monday
Ithaca Journal

CU Men's Basketball
Saturday's result: Cornell 85, Albany 82, OT

Record: 4-4
Next game: 8 p.m. Monday at No. 19 Illinois (10-0).
Radio: WYXL-HD2 (103.3)

ITHACA -- The Cornell men's basketball team may not be earning many style points of late, but it is winning, which is just fine with head coach Bill Courtney as the Big Red heads into a tough road stretch over the holiday break.

In its first game back from exams, Cornell rallied from a double-digit second-half deficit to post an exhilarating 85-82 overtime victory over Albany Saturday afternoon at Newman Arena, its second consecutive OT win.

Senior point guard Chris Wroblewski hit the winning 3-pointer with 5.6 seconds remaining in OT, capping a see-saw contest that saw the Big Red trail by 10 points with nine minutes left in regulation only to surrender a six-point lead with less than two minutes to play.

On Dec. 3, the Big Red edged Lehigh, 81-79, in another overtime thriller after trailing the majority of the second half.

"This game was even more nerve-wracking than the one before that, which I didn't think was possible," Courtney said. "We fought ourselves a little bit (Saturday), turned the ball over 17 times, shot the ball awful in the first half. In the second half, we got a few strips and started getting after the 50-50 balls, which allowed us to get into the open court and get our transition going. We showed a lot of grit getting that win."

Despite being outmatched in the opening 20 minutes, Cornell (4-4) trailed by just six points at halftime, and after some encouraging play to open the second half took a brief 45-44 lead on one of senior Drew Ferry's seven 3-pointers on the day.

The Great Danes (5-5) responded almost immediately, however, and after a 12-0 spurt -- the first of many lead-changing runs in the second half -- held a 57-47 advantage. Riding Ferry's hot hand and locking down defensively, the Big Red would answer with a run of its own and, after outscoring Albany 17-2, turned their double-digit deficit into a 70-63 lead with 3:25 remaining.

But once again, Albany refused to fold, and after Wroblewski made 1-of-2 free throws with 17 seconds left, the Great Danes completed their own comeback when Blake Metcalf found himself open for an easy layup with five seconds left, tying the game at 76.

In overtime, both teams would trade scores until 30 seconds remained. With the game knotted at 82, Cornell elected to hold for the last shot, a strategy that paid off when Wroblewski lost his defender, calmly stepped back and hit the game winner with 3.5 seconds on the clock.

"We feel comfortable with any shot he takes," Courtney said of Wroblewski. "He had some good looks in the second half, and a few just didn't go down. We're confident that he'll get it going sooner than later."

Wroblewski, who has struggled to find his offense early this season, finished with an all-around line of six points, eight assists and three rebounds, while backcourt mate Ferry netted a game-high 26 points on 7-of-12 shooting from behind the arc. Junior forward Josh Figini continued a strong spell of games with a 14-point, five-rebound effort.

The Great Danes were led by junior guard Gerardo Suero, who had 22 points.

Two hard-fought and gutsy wins may turn out to be just what the doctor ordered for Courtney's team, which headed out to Champaign, Ill., Sunday and will open up a five-game road trip against the 19th-ranked Fighting Illini at 8 p.m. Monday.

The Big Red also travels to Penn State on Wednesday night, then heads to Stony Brook on Dec. 28, Bucknell on New Year's Eve and the University of Maryland on Jan. 3. The next time Cornell plays at Newman Arena will be Jan. 7 against Albright College, its final game before the start of the Ivy League play.

"This stretch isn't really about our opponents, and it's not about being on the road," Courtney said. "It's about playing well. If we do that, the results will take care of themselves. Our goal is to continue to incorporate our young guys with our more experienced players and really start hitting our stride around the middle of January when we hit Ivy League play."

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