In the 17 games that the Red has competed in this season, the team has played an average of 12 players in each game. However, its opponents have averaged less than 10. Although consistent offensive production has been a struggle for the team this year, the Red has been able to find solace in its bench play, which has accounted for an average of 22 points per game. Three players in particular — junior forward Eitan Chemerinski, junior forward Josh Figini and freshman guard Galal Cancer — have emerged as sparks for the Red offense.
“We’re really deep,” Chemerinski said. “Everyone can make a contribution to help us win games.”
Chemerinski has played an important role in providing this depth. Although he has been a starter for 12 contests this year, he has only averaged about 16.4 minutes per game. The 6-8 forward is often used off the bench during games as a defensive threat in the paint, but he is also adding offensive strength to the Red, picking up 6.8 points per game. Chemerinski, though, does not dwell on whether his team contribution comes from off-the-bench or from a starting role.
“For me, the approach is the same,” Chemerinski said. “You always want to bring as much energy to the court as you can and it doesn’t matter when you do it.”
Chemerinski leads the team in field goal percentage at 65.8, but his big frame and formidable presence on the defensive and rebounding ends are especially important to the Red. The team has struggled with rebounding all season, being out-rebounded in 14 of its games.
“I know I have a responsibility because we’re not the biggest team,” Chemerinski said. “Rebounding has been a point of emphasis and we always have to find a way to do it even when we know we are guarding bigger and stronger guys.”
The Red has only three players taller than Chemerinski, including freshmen forward/centers Dave LaMore and Deion Giddens. Both players have gained experience on the court as the season has progressed.
Cancer is another rookie on the Cornell roster that has taken on an important role on the team. The 6-2 guard only averaged 14 minutes through the first two games of the season, but after his 7 point, 4 assist and 5 rebound performance against Boston University on Nov. 20, Cancer saw a significant increase in playing time. He now averages slightly less than 24 minutes per game and is fourth on the team in scoring with 6.9 points per game. He recently had a 17 point game in a win against Princeton on Jan. 13.
“[Cancer] has actually been starting recently,” Chemerinski said. Cancer has started four of the last five games the Red has played, and will likely continue in that role.
“He brings an offensive intensity to the team,” Chemerinski said. “He penetrates and dribble drives well and kicks it out to get our shooters open looks.”
Cancer’s ability to penetrate and kick has made him second on the team in assists, behind senior point guard and co-captain Chris Wroblewski. In the Red’s six wins so far this season, Cancer is averaging 8.2 points and 3.7 assists.
Junior forward Josh Figini has also been a source of offensive production off the bench for the Red. The tallest player on the team at 6-9, Figini has averaged 5.9 points, 2.4 rebounds and l5.8 minutes per game. He has started in only five contests thus far, but his offense has played an integral role in a few of the Red’s wins. In two straight overtime victories against Lehigh and Albany, Figini averaged 12.5 points and 6 rebounds in 28 minutes. Figini also dropped in 14 points against once-nationally-ranked Illinois while being guarded by 7-1 center Meyers Leonard.
Being juniors, Chemerinski and Figini expect even more playing time in the future. Both players saw their minutes increase dramatically from last year, a trend which will likely continue into their senior seasons. Their leadership responsibilities will also increase as they step into the graduating seniors’ footsteps.
“Next year, I think we’ll definitely have to take on a bigger leadership responsibility,” Chemerinski said. “We’ll have to help the freshman to work hard and get better.”
However, the Red is focused on the present now. Cornell will face Ancient Eight foe Columbia tomorrow night at Newman and will attempt to avenge last weekend’s 61-56 loss at the hands of the Lions.