Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ithaca Journal Previews Cornell at Columbia

ITHACA -- Coming off a home weekend split of traditional conference powers Princeton and Penn, the Cornell men's basketball team will attempt to continue its positive start in the Ivy League and notch its first road win of the 2011-12 campaign when it visits Columbia Friday for a 7 p.m. tip.

The Big Red (6-10, 1-1 Ivy League) opened league play with a 67-59 win over defending conference champion Princeton last Friday, before bowing to Penn, 64-52, just 24 hours later. Big Red coach Bill Courtney said his team's inability to make shots was the simple difference in the Penn loss.

"You watch the film from the Penn game, and we're 3-for-17 from the 3-point line and 13-for-25 from the foul line," he said. "And most of those 3s were wide-open shots. Shooting that way from the free-throw line and from 3, you're not going to win very many games."

Compounding the challenge for Cornell tonight will be its recent road history: The Red is 0-8 away from Newman Arena this season. But it hasn't been total frustration on the road, Courtney said.

"We've been in pretty much every road game we've played, except maybe at St. Bonaventure," said Courtney, referring to a 79-58 season-opening loss on Nov. 11 in Olean. "We've given ourselves a chance to win with two or three minutes to go in most of those games, but we have to finish. Part of it is mental, getting over the hump, but it's also physical, executing the correct play.

"I don't think we're not confident, but you kind of have to learn how to win," he said. "With five freshman in your top eight or nine, it's a learning process. We've got to learn it quickly, though."

Columbia (11-7, 0-2) lost its first two conference games by a combined six points last weekend, 66-64 to the Quakers and 62-58 to the Tigers, both at home.

Despite playing the majority of the season without last year's top returning scorer, Noruwa Agho, due to a season-ending injury, the Lions had won seven consecutive games and 11 out of 12 prior to last weekend. Cornell and Columbia are conference travel partners, meaning they will play one game this weekend and one the next, when the Lions travel to Ithaca.

Cornell has had a fair amount of success against the Lions in the recent past, winning five of the last six in New York City and 14 of the last 18 overall. Last season went against the trend, however, as the Lions earned a season sweep for the first time in nine years, taking Cornell 75-59 in New York and 70-66 at Newman.

After facing early Ivy League Player of the Year favorite Zack Rosen of Penn last weekend, Cornell will have the task of slowing another explosive scorer in Columbia junior Brian Barbour, who leads the Lions in scoring at 15.5 points per game. Barbour opened his Ivy League season on fire, scoring 25 points against both Penn and Princeton while shooting 15-for-27 from the field and 17-for-19 from the foul line.

"Brian Barbour does a tremendous job for their team," Courtney said. "He uses ball screens very effectively; he gets into the lane and makes plays."

Despite shooting a worrisome 5-for-28 from 3-point range last weekend, the Big Red has shown signs of improvement in a number of key areas, and will surely benefit from having to prepare for just one game this weekend.

The Big Red has blocked at least five shots in three straight games for the first time since 2008-09, and has recorded at least eight steals in four consecutive contests for the first time since 2009-10. Cornell also is making a concerted effort to go to the free-throw line more often, and in its last two games attempted more free throws than its opponent after going 11 games without an edge in that category.

Senior guard Drew Ferry leads the Red in scoring (12.6 ppg.), while last week's Ivy League Rookie of the Week, freshman forward Shonn Miller, is chipping in 9.6 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds per outing. Miller had a combined 31 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocked shots last weekend.

After next weekend's home game with the Lions, the Big Red heads back to the road Feb. 3-4 to take on Harvard and Dartmouth.

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