Saturday, February 4, 2012

Game Recap: Cornell 60, Harvard 71

Box Score

Box Score (PDF)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- No. 23 Harvard put the clamps down defensively in the first half and held on after halftime to knock off Cornell 71-60 on Friday evening at Lavietes Pavilion. The Crimson improved to 19-2 (5-0 Ivy), while the Big Red slipped to 7-12 (2-3 Ivy).

Johnathan Gray posted 14 points as the lone double figure scorer for the Big Red, while Shonn Miller notched nine points, eight rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals in just 19 minutes of action. Chris Wroblewski had nine points and three assists for Cornell. The Big Red shot just 38 percent from the floor for the game and hit on 29 percent from beyond the arc.

Laurent Rivard had a game-high 16 points to lead the Crimson, while Kyle Casey scored 13. Keith Wright (nine points, seven rebounds) and Steve Moundou-Missi each recorded nine points for the balanced Crimson attack. The home team held a decisive edge at the free throw line, connecting on 29-of-34 shots from the charity stripe while Cornell made 14-of-16.

The game was decided in the first half, as Harvard's defense limited the Big Red to 31 percent shooting and just 2-of-10 from 3-point range to send the Crimson into the break leading 38-24. The two teams played even basketball for the first eight minutes before Harvard slowly started to pull away. A three-point play by Rivard on the break put Harvard up 21-13 and capped an 8-2 run. The lead wouldn't get below seven the rest of the way.

The Big Red's effort was much improved in the second half, making a late run to get back within 11 after going down as many as 22 points. Cornell scored the first five points of the second half in just 28 seconds, getting a trey by Drew Ferry, followed by a turnover and bucket by Gray to sice the deficit to 38-29 almost immediately. Another Harvard turnover put the Big Red back on the break, but Harvard's Oliver McNally stole the ball back and fed it ahead for a Keith Wright dunk to make it 40-29. Cornell wouldn't get back within single digits the rest of the way.

Milelr was outstanding in the second half against the defending Ivy champions, posting all nine points, grabbing five rebounds, blocking two shots and causing two steals in just 10 minutes of action before fouling out.

Cornell returns to action on Saturday at 7 p.m. when it visits Dartmouth's Leede Arena as the Big Red attempts to collect its first road win of the season.

At one point in the second half of the No. 23 Harvard men’s basketball team’s 71-60 win over Cornell Friday night, three freshmen—Steve Mondou-Missi, Wesley Saunders, and Corbin Miller—joined senior co-captains Keith Wright and Oliver McNally on the floor.

In many ways, that lineup, and its opponent, represented how much things have changed in Ivy League basketball in the four years between the freshman seasons of Wright and McNally and those of the Crimson’s talented class of rookies in 2011-12.

When the co-captains were freshmen in 2008-09, Cornell was in the middle of a mini-dynasty, on its way to its second Ivy title—it would go to the Sweet Sixteen a year later—while Harvard finished .500.

Fast forward four years, where things are very different for both programs. The Crimson now sits atop the Ivy basketball world and the Big Red must fight just to finish in the middle of the pack.

Looking for back-to-back championships of its own this season, the Crimson (19-2, 5-0 Ivy) continued to surge in that direction Friday night, winning a program-record 24th consecutive game on its home court.

Sophomore guard Laurent Rivard led the Crimson 16 with points, while junior forward Kyle Casey added 13. Meanwhile, a young Big Red (7-13, 2-3) squad struggled with fouls and turnovers throughout the evening, unable to generate any offensive rhythm before it was too late.

But after a sloppy second half of its own, Harvard left the game feeling it still had a lot to work on.

“We lost focus, [and] I think we relaxed,” Rivard said. “Obviously, that’s something we don’t want to do ever again. We were fortunate enough to play well offensively to come away with the win.”

Harvard went into the break with a 14-point advantage, but Cornell came out with a quick 5-0 run, as Drew Ferry knocked down a three, and following a Casey turnover, Jonathan Gray scored on a transition layup.

“At the beginning of the second half, they came out and I think made a statement that they were going to try to make a run at this,” Amaker said. “I was not very happy with how we responded.... I was perplexed and disappointed with how we came out of the half.”

But Ferry would turn the ball over on the Big Red’s next possession, and McNally found Wright for a dunk at the other end.

Moments later, Casey drove baseline and threw down another slam. On the ensuing Cornell possession, Rivard jumped the passing lane, raced down court, split two defenders, and finished with the layup to put the Crimson up, 45-31.

From there, Harvard would go on a 15-8 run capped by a left corner three from junior Christian Webster to put the Crimson ahead, 60-40, with 5:57 to go.

By then, the contest was out of reach, but Cornell would finish on an 18-9 run, something the home team was not happy about.

“We certainly didn’t have the attention to detail we needed in the second half,” Amaker said. “Our defense is better than what we displayed in the last 20 minutes.”

“We kind of lost a little concentration,” Casey added. “Not to take anything away from Cornell, because they played a solid game, but we’ve really got to stay focused for a full 40 minutes.... The second half was definitely one of our weakest halves of this year.”

Harvard looked inside early in the contest, as two early Wright layups—one an and-one—and two Casey free throws gave Harvard a quick 7-2 lead. Cornell would fight back on two Gray baskets to tie the game at nine, but the Crimson went on a 16-6 run capped by a Rivard three to go up 25-15. Later, another Rivard long-ball—on which he was fouled but missed the free throw—put the Crimson up, 30-18.

Two Saunders free throws stretched the lead to 14 with 1:24 to go, and the freshman hit a layup at the buzzer to give the Crimson a 38-24 lead heading into the half.

Harvard held Ferry, the Big Red’s leading scorer, to just six points on 2-of-10 shooting.

“We knew they set a lot of screens for him,” Rivard said. “He runs a lot [and] has a really quick release. So we really focused on helping out with screens, having a hand on him, and footstepping, and I think we did a good job on that.”

Freshman guard Corbin Miller got a season-high 21 minutes for the Crimson but shot zero-for-seven from downtown. The rookie had been 17-for-28 (61%) coming into the contest, which would have led the NCAA if he had qualified with more attempts.

“During the game I just told him, ‘keep shooting’,” Rivard said. “Tomorrow he’s just got to shoot his first shot like nothing happened, and that’s what great shooters should do.”

Cornell committed 27 fouls, allowing the Crimson to get to the line 34 times. It hit 29 of those free throws, but Amaker was disappointed with his team’s performance on the whole.

“I thought it was tremendous foul shooting by our team, certainly that was one of the differences for us,” the coach said. “I just wish we could play better and more consistently throughout the game.”

We’re in the dog days of February, the part of the college basketball season by which the really good teams have established themselves, but know that crunch time and the madness of March will soon be approaching, and thus sometimes conserve energy against lesser opponents.

For Harvard, which was the class of the Ivy League at the start of the season and has done nothing to change that, dealing with home games this weekend against Cornell and Columbia is as much a challenge in the mind as on the court.

Neither team was expected to be an Ivy contender, and going into this weekend, neither had shown any such potential. Certainly Cornell didn’t last night, as Harvard eased its way to a 71-60 victory.

Leading the way for the Crimson was sophomore guard Laurent Rivard with 16 points, and junior forward Kyle Casey, who added 13 points and six rebounds.

“I thought we played a pretty darn good defensive first half,’’ said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, whose team built a 14-point halftime lead, but seemed to coast for much of the second half. “At the start of the second half, I was not very happy with how we responded. I thought we did not have the attention to detail we needed in the second half.’’

Cornell (7-12, 2-3) remains in search of its first road win of the season (0-10), while Harvard (19-2, 5-0) has yet to lose at Lavietes Pavilion (7-0).

After a road sweep of Yale and Brown last week, and with the always challenging Penn-Princeton road weekend coming up, beating Cornell and Columbia was a foregone conclusion in the minds of many of the growing number of Crimson backers.

All week, Amaker reminded his players of what could happen if they weren’t focused. And as has been the case for many of their games this season, it took awhile for the Crimson to get into the flow.

With only a 13-11 lead nearly midway through the first half, the Crimson finally got serious, using a pair of scoring bursts to take control. The most impressive display was 8 straight points by Rivard, which gave the Crimson a 12-point lead.

By the half, Harvard had a 38-24 advantage, highlighted by Rivard’s 11 points.

The Crimson again needed a wake-up call in the second half, as they came out of the locker room looking disinterested, scoring only 2 points and committing four turnovers in the first four minutes.

Amaker used the first television timeout of the second half to remind his players that the game was far from over, which of course, it was.

But the Crimson were hardly satisfied with the way the victory was achieved, as evidenced by the number of turnovers (16) to assists (12).

“We lost focus, I think we relaxed. We were at home and we had the lead,’’ said Rivard.

Casey, who is slowly reemerging as one of the leaders on offense, also was not pleased.

“I thought we showed a lot of immaturity,’’ he said. “It’s humbling, it’s unacceptable for us to come out like that, to drop the ball like that in the second half.’’

The bottom line is that the Crimson survived, and with Penn’s loss to Yale last night, Harvard’s grip on first place in the Ivy is even stronger.

Now, it just has to figure out a way not to let it slip away because of mental lapses.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Laurent Rivard led the Crimson with 16 points and Kyle Casey added 13, as the No. 23 Harvard men's basketball team won its 24th straight game at home, defeating Cornell, 71-60, Friday afternoon at a sold out Lavietes Pavilion.

The Crimson, which has won seven straight games, ties its program record with a 5-0 start to Ivy League play (1980-81) and improves to 19-2 overall. Cornell slips to 7-12 and 2-3 in the Ancient Eight. Harvard is also tied for the best start in program history, matching the 1945-46 squad.

Keith Wright scored nine on 4-of-5 shooting and had a team-high seven boards, while Wesley Saunders contributed eight points. Harvard shot 18-of-44 overall (.409), including 6-of-20 (.300) from beyond the arc. The Crimson also went to the foul line 34 times, hitting 29 shots (.853). The Crimson held the Big Red to 20-of-53 shooting (.377) and outrebounded Cornell by a 34-30 margin.

Johnathan Gray led Cornell with 14 points.

Wright scored the Crimson's first five points of the game, as he converted a conventional 3-point play, as Harvard led early on, 5-2. After Cornell tied it, 7-7, Brandyn Curry drove the lane and finished with a layup putting Harvard back on top, 9-7. With 12:55 to play in the first, Christian Webster drilled a trey, making it 13-9 in favor of the Crimson. Casey increased Harvard's lead to 17-11 when he hit a layup after being fouled at 11:22 remaining.

With 10:17 left, Rivard stole the ball in the Cornell zone and dribbled down the floor with a bucket in the paint and the harm. He made the ensuing free throw giving the Crimson an eight-point lead, 21-13. Harvard continued to grow its lead, as Rivard drained a triple from the right side, 25-15. With 5:47 left, Rivard was fouled before he made another 3-pointer, giving Harvard a 12-point edge, 30-18.

With time winding down in the first half, Saunders banked a layup, giving Harvard a 38-24 lead at the break. Rivard led all scorers with 11 points at the half, shooting 3-of-5, including 2-of-4 from long distance. The Crimson made 10-of-22 field goals (.450) and hit 15-of-18 free throws (.833). Harvard held the Big Red to just 8-of-26 shooting (.310) and outrebounded Cornell, 18-14.

After Cornell cut the deficit to 41-31, Casey ended the run with a dunk through traffic, and Rivard added a layup on the fast break, putting Harvard back up by 14, 45-31. With 10:20 to go, Casey was fouled attempting a left-handed layup and made both, 49-33.

Casey added a triple with 9:19 left, giving the Crimson its largest lead to that point, 54-33. Less than a minute later, Steve Moundou-Missi converted a conventional 3-point play, making it 57-35. Webster buried a wide-open triple with six minutes left, keeping Harvard up by 30, 60-40.

Cornell got within, 15-, 62-47, but Rivard hit his third 3-pointer of the game to put the game out of reach, making it 69-50.

Harvard hosts Columbia Saturday evening at 7 p.m.

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