After a promising start to the Ivy League season, the men’s basketball team (13-16, 5-7) seemed poised to contend for the Ivy League championship and an NCAA berth. The injury bug bit the team hard, however, as the Red lost many key players — including sophomore forward Shonn Miller, senior guard Johnny Gray and sophomore guard Devin Cherry — and lost four in a row at home. The Red looks to bounce back in the last two games of the season on the road against Dartmouth (7-19, 3-9) on Friday night and Harvard (17-9, 9-3) on Sunday in a nationally televised game.
Although the Red feels confident about its chances to contend for the championship, it is difficult to continue momentum when key players get hurt, according to head coach Bill Courtney.
“Obviously, injuries are a thing you can’t control, and when it happens, it’s very tough,” Courtney said. “Coming back from Brown [two weeks ago], we were in great shape to push for a championship with four straight home games … We were playing our best basketball and found a rhythm and rotation, but as you lose guys, things start to become different. It’s easier to make adjustments midway through the year, but harder when you have just two days before a game to make those adjustments. [The impact] of losing starters, your top scorers, defenders and rebounders is immeasurable.”
Those expecting a return from those injured will be disappointed, as Courtney said he does not think anyone will recover from injuries in time for the rest of the season.
“I don’t think we’ll have anyone back,” Courtney said. “We’re just trying to figure out who we do have. We had practice on Monday, and we had eight guys and five of them were centers.”
Despite the loss of many key players, the Red expects the younger players called upon this week to perform well, given the opportunity.
“[Junior guard] Dom Scelfo has been big for us all year and is getting better and better,” said senior point guard and captain Miles Asafo-Adjei. “[Sophomore forward] Deion Giddens has been playing great basketball and he was great on the defensive end [against Brown and Yale] last weekend, altering and blocking shots. He can also score around the basket a little bit, so we’re looking forward to him giving us some more great minutes.”
Asafo-Adjei added that junior forward Dwight Tarwater has the potential to be a solid contributor.
“Another guy I think can play very well is Dwight Tarwater,” he said. “He has very good size and can do a lot of things for us on the offensive end of the floor.”
The last time the Red played Dartmouth, the men routed the Green, 79-56, and started a key three-game win streak for the team.
“We played well [against Dartmouth] definitely because of the pressure,” Asafo-Adjei said. “We took them out of everything they wanted to do. I can only remember one possession where they actually ran a play; we sped them up, pressed them and made them turn the ball over.”
According to Courtney, although it will be harder to play the same style as in the previous game, the Red will still attempt to try to add the same amount of pressure.
“This week, it’s going to be more difficult [to pressure them] because we don’t have that same speed and athleticism; we’re not that team anymore with the injuries, but we still have to try to do some of those things,” he said. “We need guys to step off the bench because we need a lot of depth … to keep the speed of the game going the way we want it to.”
Against Harvard, the Red need to pay particular attention to the Crimson’s two leading scorers, freshman point guard Siyani Chambers and sophomore forward Wesley Saunders. Saunders upped his scoring average from 3.3 last year to 16.6 this year to lead the Ivy League.
“Chambers is a special young player; he’s very quick and most people don’t realize that he is a very good shooter, especially off the dribble, which makes him hard to guard,” Asafo-Adjei said. “I just want to make all his shots tough, keep him in front and not let him get to the basket and create for others because he’s great at getting his teammates open looks. He’s a great all around player so we have to play good team and individual defense to contain him.”
The Red’s injuries could affect the effectiveness of the team’s coverage of Saunders, Courtney said.
“[Saunders] had a lot of offers [to USC and Colorado] and was a big time recruit,” he said. “But, did anyone expect him to lead the league in scoring in his second year? Probably not, but we knew he was a great player. He’s a tough matchup because he’s relentless going to the basket and without Miller, somebody has to step up and prevent him from getting to the basket and out of the lane.”
Regardless of the injuries or being out of contention for the Ivy League title, fans can expect the Red to play as hard as it can, as these will be the last two games the seniors will play.
“It’s very important to me to finish this weekend strong,” Asafo-Adjei stated. “It’s hard to talk about my entire experience in just a couple sentences, but Cornell basketball’s meant the world to me. ... My teammates will be something I’ll remember the most; they were like brothers or best friends. We spent the majority of our time together and it’s probably the one thing I’ll miss the most. Overall, it’s been an incredible experience and something I’ll never forget.”