Coming off its best weekend of the year, Cornell’s men’s basketball team looks to build on its momentum with two big Ivy League match-ups on the road. The Red (10-12, 5-3 Ivy League), currently sitting fourth in the league, will take on Penn (13-11, 5-2) and Princeton (13-10, 4-3), who are in third and fifth place in the conference, respectively.
In its first matchup against Penn at Newman Arena on Jan. 14, the Red came out slow and was outhustled by the Quakers, losing the game, 64-52. The team understands that it will need to work harder in order to avenge that loss, according to senior point guard and co-captain Chris Wroblewski.
“We looked back at the film and they really just outworked us,” he said. “They came into our building and really laid the first punch on us and that’s what we try to do against teams … They came here with a lot more energy and just outworked us from start to finish and that’s unacceptable. We’re going to have to really pick up our intensity level [at Penn].”
This time around, the Red plans to slow down Penn guard Zack Rosen, who is averaging 18 points a game, good for second in the Ivy League, and dishing out 5.8 assists a game, which leads the conference.
“We can guard Zack Rosen a little better; he really dominated the game down in Ithaca,” said head coach Bill Courtney. “His ability to play off the ball and set other people up [really hurt us]; he really did a great job.”
However, Courtney felt the most important factor to winning this time around is simply to knock down more shots.
“We shot [37 percent from the field] that game and [3-for-17] from three, so … it really comes down to us making more shots,” Courtney said. “Last year, we basically outscored them. We won both games because we were able to put the ball in the basket.”
Another big factor will be the emergence of junior guard Johnathan Gray. In the first game against Penn, Gray played 14 minutes, scoring just one point and leaving no significant impact on the game. This time around, expect a large contribution from Gray, who has turned around his season and become one of the Red’s most dependable players. In his last six games, Gray averaged 16.3 points on 50 percent shooting and five rebounds a game.
“[Gray] got off to a rocky start in the starting lineup and then he started playing well off the bench,” Courtney said. “I think it released the pressure off of him. He was thinking about what he was doing wrong and when you start doing that, you tend to make more mistakes. Once he stopped doing that he started to play with great urgency and energy.”
“I couldn’t be happier or prouder of [Gray],” Wroblewski said. “He works his tail off every day in practice and we need a guy like that … When he gets his shot going, the whole team feeds off of it; we really get some momentum when he gets going.”
Cornell got the best of Princeton the first time the two teams played, winning 67-59, but the Tigers are very dangerous, having just handed Harvard its first Ivy League loss last weekend. The Red realizes the challenge posed by the Tigers’ size and their star, forward Ian Hummer, who is averaging 16.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists a game.
“They’re probably the biggest [team] in the Ivy League and they have some skilled guards that can really handle the basketball,” Courtney said. “When you have that combination, along with Ian Hummer, who is having as good a year as anybody in the Ivy League, you have all the pieces that make up a good team.”
“Ian Hummer is probably up there for Ivy League Player of the Year,” Wroblewski added. “He’s strong, athletic and can shoot it, so he’s a very dangerous threat. They also have a lot of individual talent and they’re so unique in the style of offense that they run. The type of plays they run is so different from any other Ivy League team.”
The Red will rely on the play and leadership of their two co-captains – Wroblewski and senior guard Drew Ferry – to knock down the Tigers this time around.
Wroblewski did not have a huge impact on the game last time, as he was still in the midst of his cold streak, scoring just nine points and collecting four assists. However, he has been improving of late, even earning Ivy League Player of the Week honors for averaging 16.5 points, nine assists, 6.5 rebounds and two steals last weekend.
“The biggest difference between now and [last game] is that Chris Wroblewski is playing a lot better basketball,” Courtney said.
The Red also hopes that Ferry, who is the Red’s most consistent shooter and leading scorer, at 11.4 points a game, will have a better game this time around, as he was held scoreless in the first matchup with the Tigers.
“He’s probably one of the most important pieces on our team; he requires so much attention from the defense,” Wroblewski said. “People on the outside probably don’t notice the effect he has on our team, but he just opens up the entire lane … because generally [defenders] don’t help off of him. When we need a big shot and the game is on the line, we want him to take the shot.”