The men’s basketball team returns to Newman Arena this weekend to finish off the season. After beating Brown and falling to Yale last weekend, the Red hosts Dartmouth on Friday and the Ivy League-leading Harvard Crimson on Saturday for Senior Night.
Three weeks ago, the Red (11-15, 6-5 Ivy League) defeated the Green (5-23, 1-11), 68-59, for its first road win of the season. Despite pulling ahead early in the game and going into the half up by seven, the Red let Dartmouth get back into the game in the last 20 minutes.
“We got off to a great start last time and we need to sustain that energy,” said senior point guard and co-captain Chris Wroblewski. “Once you give a team confidence, it becomes a battle to the end.”
The Red ended up pulling away with a minute left to go in the game when junior guard Johnathan Gray’s two free throws put the team up by 10.
“This time we can’t drop off; we can never think that we put them away,” Gray said. “We have to keep our foot on the pedal for 40 minutes.”
Though the Green has dropped two straight games, it did pick up its first conference win against Brown two weeks ago.
While Dartmouth remains in the cellar of the Ivy League, the Crimson (24-4, 10-2) comes to Ithaca in a neck-and-neck battle for the top spot in the conference after losing to second place Penn last weekend.
“We want to prove that we can play with [Harvard],” Gray said.
In the Red’s 71-60 loss to Harvard on Feb. 3, Cornell got off to a slow start, allowing the Crimson to create a lead by as much as 14 in the first half. Cornell came out of the locker room strong, though, and outscored the Crimson by three in the second half.
“We came out timid in the first half, not taking the ball to the basket and we passed up a lot of open shots,” Gray said. “But we played with so much more confidence in the second half.”
“They got us back on our heels early, and we can’t let that happen again with such a talented team,” Wroblewski said.
To prevent that from happening, according to Gray, the Red understands that boxing out will be especially important against the Crimson’s threatening frontcourt of 6-7 Kyle Casey and 6-8 Keith Wright. Though Harvard did out-rebound the Red by five last time, Cornell was able to limit the Crimson’s second-chance opportunities to only eight.
“Rebounding is always a focal point because we’re such a small team,” Gray said. “The guards are also going to have to do a good job of crashing the glass.”
After falling to Penn (17-11, 9-2), 55-54, the Crimson is only one win ahead of the Quakers, and the two teams are even in the loss column. Penn has three more games, one of which is against Brown (8-21, 2-10), who also remains at the bottom of the Ivy League. The race to the top of the conference looks to be an extremely close one, and the Red could potentially make or break the Crimson’s chances at an Ivy title this Saturday.
“We want to make a statement for next year,” Gray said. “Having the whole crowd behind us, we want to send the seniors out on a good note and what better way to do that than with a win over Harvard.”
For Wroblewski and seniors Drew Ferry, Max Groebe and Anthony Gatlin though, this game is about more than just making a statement. For the three seniors, the game against Harvard marks the last game they will play for Cornell. For Groebe and Wroblewski, it is the end of a storied four-year career that saw them lead the Red to two Ivy League titles and two NCAA tournament bids, including a run to the Sweet 16.
“It’s going to be really weird. I don’t think it’s beginning to settle in yet that this will be the last competitive basketball game I’ll ever play,” Wroblewski said. “It’s definitely going to be emotional, but I’m looking forward to going out there one more time and having fun with my teammates.”