(Photo by Patrick Shanahan, Cornell Athletics)
With one conference road win under its belt, the men’s basketball team is heading into this weekend’s home game against Cornell in stride.
“It’s tremendous,” said head coach Kyle Smith. “You’ve got to temper your feelings a bit, but what I tell our guys is, ‘I’m bought in.’ Each day that you wake up and you’re still in the hunt for the title, you’re doing well.”
Columbia (9-6, 1-0 Ivy) picked up a 67-58 victory over the Big Red (8-10, 0-1 Ivy) last Saturday in Ithaca to kick off the Ivy League season.
Relying on a smaller lineup for most of the game to match up with Cornell’s speed, the Light Blue succeeded in getting around Cornell’s high-pressure defense and hitting big shots when needed.
At the start of the game, the Big Red forced a few Light Blue mistakes in succession and jumped out to a five-point lead.
Though the Lions managed to battle back and take the lead, the Light Blue expects Cornell to bring strong pressure again on Saturday, senior guard Brian Barbour said after the game in Ithaca.
'Barbour also said that one of the keys to winning the second game against Cornell will be defending the outside shot, especially from Big Red freshman guard Nolan Cressler, who hit some open shots from the wings on Saturday.
'“I thought we did a better job on him in the second half, but part of it was that they got out in transition,” Smith said. “He’s really hard to find, and he’s a really good scorer.”
Smith stressed transition defense as a necessity for the Lions to prevent easy buckets from Cornell’s fast guards, like sophomore Devin Cherry and senior Johnathan Gray, and its top scorer, sophomore forward Shonn Miller.
Last week, the Light Blue limited Miller to just 13 points. For this Saturday, Smith said stopping Miller from getting easy second-chance buckets or fast break points is essential to keeping Cornell’s offense out of rhythm.
“If we make him score out of the half court and keep him below 50 percent shooting, we’d be happy,” Smith said.
Columbia’s offense was even more successful than its defense, as the Lions proved effective from both the post and beyond the arc. Four Lions finished in double digits, with senior center Mark Cisco leading the pack with 18 points and nine rebounds.
On Saturday, the Lions will need another strong showing from their backcourt, especially sophomore guard Steve Frankoski, who has established himself as one of the squad’s best sharpshooters from downrange.
But one of Columbia’s biggest struggles in its second game against Cornell may simply be performing in front of its home crowd, said Smith, which the Lions have had trouble doing this season.
While the Light Blue is 5-3 on the road, it is only 3-3 at home and has seen some tough losses in Levien Gymnasium, including a 65-57 loss to Bucknell in December.
“We’ve left a couple at home that we’d like to get back,” Smith said. “I just want us to shoot the ball well, play confidently at home, and be aggressive.”
Tip-off against Cornell is set for Saturday at 7 p.m. in Levien Gymnasium.