After splitting its first six games of the Ivy League season, the Cornell men’s basketball team (11-12, 3-3 Ivy League) now faces a make-or-break weekend as it leaves Ithaca to play Yale and Brown this weekend. The Red is currently tied for third in the Ivy League behind Harvard (13-7, 5-1) and Princeton (11-8, 4-1). Despite being two back in the loss column, the team is cautiously optimistic about its chances, understanding that it must stay out of the loss column.
“I feel like our chances are pretty good [of winning the Ivy League],” said senior forward Errick Peck. “Obviously we can’t lose any more, but with those two teams losing and already with a loss in their record, we feel like we can give them their second loss and if they stumble against someone along the road, then we can [potentially] play them in a playoff game. We like our chances right now to be honest with you.”
Despite knowing what lies ahead of his team, head coach Bill Courtney stressed the need to concentrate on the immediate future.
“We got to take it one game at a time, which is a great cliché in sports, but it’s very true for us,” Courtney said. “We almost have to have blinders on and think only about the next opponent. We can’t think about standings, other teams, who loses or who wins; if we do that and take care of our business, we’ll be in a great position. [The Ivy League] is very wide open right now, and I think several teams have a shot to win it and I hope we’re one of them.”
Against Yale on Friday, the Red will need to keep its eye on the Bulldogs’ starting backcourt in guards Javier Duren and Austin Morgan, as well as forward Justin Sears off the bench, according to Courtney.
“Yale is a young team and they struggled at the beginning of their year, but now they’ve hit their stride,” Courtney said. “Javier Duran, their sophomore point guard — who didn’t play much last year — has great size [at 6’4”] and is a very good player. Austin Morgan is a senior who is a double-figure scorer and is very dangerous with his three-point shot. Justin Sears is a freshman who comes off the bench and is 6’8”, long and athletic. He’s provided something different for them so he’s another guy we have to key on.”
The three top scorers for the Bulldogs combine to score just shy of 30 points per game, with Morgan leading the way with 11.6 points and 2.2 assists.
On the offensive end, the Red will look to push the pace and make the Bulldogs play at an uncomfortable tempo, according to Courtney.
“By playing with the intensity, effort, enthusiasm and energy [we showed last weekend against Dartmouth and the end of the Harvard game], we can beat anybody in our league, and that’s the team we have to be,” Courtney said. “We can’t be the team that plays slow and tries to out-execute people. We have to be the team that plays harder and faster than everyone else and really have tremendous intensity.”
Another big key for the Red against Yale will be the continued excellent play of Peck, who has averaged 16 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4 assists a game in the last three contests. Peck attributed his improved play to simply playing with more freedom and having fun on the court.
“I think the most important thing for me is to go out and play basketball,” Peck said. “I’ve been bogged down by my injury, what others were saying, expectations and that [type of stuff], but now, I’ve thrown them out of the window.”
Knowing that he is also in his last year with the Red, Peck said he hopes to leave everything out on the court.
“For me, it’s my senior year, my last time to play … I’m just going out and having fun; that’s the biggest thing. I’m playing my game, [and] not worrying about who else is on the floor or how many minutes I’m getting. I’m just playing to the best of my abilities,” he said.
In its second game of the weekend against Brown, the Red will again have its hands full with the Bears’ starting backcourt — Sean McGonagill and Matt Sullivan — who each average 38 minutes a game to lead the Ivy League. Generally, the Red needs to get out on all of Brown’s shooters and use its speed and athleticism to push the tempo.
“[Brown is] like us the last couple years, having so many three-point shooters; McGonagill, Sullivan, Stephen Albrecht and Tucker Halpern off the bench can [all] shoot it, so we really have to guard the three-point line against them,” Courtney said. “Again, it’s another game where our foot speed should help us in that regard. We should be able to guard those guys and run past them on offense, and that’s what we’re looking to do. They don’t have a lot of depth and we do, and on a second night of an Ivy League game, we hope to wear them down.”
The players have adopted this mentality and understand that they have to play at a faster tempo to make the opponent uncomfortable, according to Peck.
“I would say [the most important thing] for us is to play our style of basketball,” he said. “Most of the Ivy League [including Yale and Brown] wants to slow down [the] game. … The biggest thing is to force teams to play our high-tempo style up and down the court. We need to pressure teams a lot, get in their face and cause some turnovers. We can’t let them sit back, pass [the ball around] and throw it inside. We’re not the biggest team in the world, but we’ll use our speed and athleticism to our advantage.”