Coming off a sweep of its conference road games last weekend, the Red (13-12, 5-3 Ivy League) finds itself at a crucial crossroads with two home games against Penn and Princeton on Friday and Saturday. With the Tigers losing their second Ivy game on Saturday, the Red has a chance to pull closer to the top of the Ancient Eight if it can come away with another sweep.
The Red squeaked by with a two-point win over Penn (6-18, 3-4) earlier in the month after getting off to a slow offensive start in the first half. Sophomore guard Galal Cancer’s last second bank shot in the paint eventually allowed Cornell to escape the Palestra with a 71-69 victory.
“Any time you get a win on the road you’ll take it, but we realize that we could have played a lot better,” said senior guard Johnathan Gray.
The Red allowed the Quakers to shoot 50 percent from beyond the arc, with guard Patrick Lucas-Perry leading the way with 14 points and four triples. Though the Red defense held Penn’s top scorer Miles Cartwright to just eight points, Gray acknowledged that his team will need to pay more attention to the Quakers’ role players this time around.
“We understand we have to improve on getting out to their shooters,” he said. “Some people hurt us who we weren’t thinking were going to score, so we have to pay more attention to them.”
Coming out of the locker room down by three in that game, the Red was able to turn up the pressure on the defensive end, forcing 10 turnovers in the second half.
“If we come out with the intensity we played towards the end of that game, we’ll be in good shape,” said senior forward Eitan Chemerinski. “I think what we did best was pick up the tempo defensively and frustrate the passers and that helped to jump-start our offense.”
Though Lucas-Perry is averaging only five points in 13.8 minutes per game, he has been Penn’s most effective shooter at 47 percent from 3-point range. Now that the Red is familiar with Penn’s offensive weapons, it will have a more concrete defensive plan.“We need to talk and communicate on shooters, we got caught up on watching the ball in transition [last time] and lost track of some shooters,” Gray said. “We have to sprint back on defense and locate who is a shooter and where they are on the court.”The Red’s biggest test of the weekend will come against Princeton (12-9, 5-2). The Tigers come to Newman having lost two of their last three conference wins and now find themselves in a neck-and-neck fight to maintain pace with Harvard and fend off the surging Red.Princeton took care of the Red on its own home court on Feb. 1, defeating Cornell 76-59. The length of the Tigers’ frontcourt in forwards Ian Hummer and Denton Koon was a constant issue for the Red as the team struggled to score. Only two players — sophomore forward Shonn Miller and senior forward Josh Figini — were in double figures and Princeton all but shut the door in the second half, holding the Red to just 29 points.Hummer and Koon combined for 44 points on the day, and Princeton’s efficiently run offense helped them shoot over 50 percent from the field.“Koon played extremely well, he’s going to be a concern and a focus for us defensively,” Gray said. “We’re going to have to pressure the basketball. Their offense is so unique, if they look where they want to go, they can hit cutters [in the paint]. We need to make every pass difficult for them and speed up the tempo so they’re not able to take their time on the offensive end and do what they want.”According to Chemerinski, it will be especially important for the Red’s forwards to deny passes into Hummer and Koon on the low block — where they are most lethal.“If we make it difficult to look inside and pass it in, that will disrupt what they try to do on offense,” Chemerinski said.Though the Red has perennially been a strong team on its home court, the squad is only 1-2 at Newman Arena this season. Improved play in conference games on the road — where the team is 4-1 — has kept Cornell nipping at the heels of Harvard and Princeton.“For some reason we haven’t been particularly good at home. [Maybe it’s] a lack of aggression coming out and then we have to kind of pick things up,” Gray said. “We need to have the same mentality that we do on the road where we’re playing desperate. We have to take that aggressiveness [back home] because nothing is given to us and other teams will try to come in and beat us.”Two wins this weekend would put the Red in a tie with Princeton for second place and — depending on what Harvard does in its conference games — right behind the top-ranked Crimson.However, according to Gray, the Red hopes that his team will not put too much weight on the matchup with the Tigers.“We’re anxious, we know where we are,” Gray said. “In terms of where we want to get we have to understand it’s only one game. If we take things one practice at a time, one quarter at a time, everything will take care of itself.”