ITHACA — Thought to be in a major rebuilding mode entering the season, the Cornell men’s basketball team turned a few heads Friday night when it raced to an early 14-point lead in its opener against eighth-ranked Syracuse before finally succumbing to the Orange’s relentless pressure in the second half.
Two days later, the Big Red took Loyola (Md.) to overtime before dropping a four-point decision to the Greyhounds. Despite the season-opening losses, CU’s brand of basketball undoubtedly gave its fans hope that good times may not be as far off as first thought.
Cornell is hoping Wednesday night’s the night, as the Red (0-2) plays its third game in six days when it hosts the Bearcats of Binghamton University (0-2) at Newman Arena. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
The Red is off to a busy start to its season, and will play its fourth game in eight days Friday when it travels to the Bluegrass State for a 7 p.m. clash with defending national champion Louisville. After five days off, the Red will encounter another busy spell: Nov. 20 at Colgate, Nov. 22 against Siena and Nov. 25 against Radford at home, then Nov. 29 at Western Michigan and Dec. 1 at Notre Dame.
The youthful Big Red, with two freshmen and one senior in the starting lineup, no doubt surprised the Orange and the 24,000 fans in the Carrier Dome. It went on early runs of 7-0 and 15-3 and built a 36-22 lead with 4:17 to go on a Nolan Cressler coast-to-coast layup. Syracuse cut the deficit to six at halftime, then went on a 32-10 run in the second half to take charge.
Cressler finished the game with 23 points, including 20 in the first half, on 8-for-16 shooting from the floor. Freshman guard Robert Hatter had nine points and two rebounds; he followed that up Sunday with a freshman-record 32 points — 20 in the first half — against Loyola. He was named the Ivy League’s Rookie of the Week.
Despite the hopeful start, the loss to Loyola on Sunday was Cornell’s eighth straight dating to last season, its longest such streak since losing eight straight during the 2010-11 season.
Binghamton, led by second-year coach Tommy Dempsey, has had an even longer run of frustration following scandals involving recruiting violations and player arrests. The Bearcats, who finished 3-27 last year, ended the season with 11 straight losses and 23 in their final 24 games. They scored 55.9 points per game in 2012-13, which put them 339th out of 345 NCAA Division I teams.
The Bearcats opened with a 79-74 loss to Loyola last Friday, then fell at Brown, 74-57, two days later. Sophomore guard Jordan Reed scored 23 points in the Loyola game before fouling out in the final five minutes. It was there that the Greyhounds took charge, rallying from a 70-65 deficit as senior Dylon Cormier scored nine of his game-high 31 points to spark the comeback.
Freshman forward Nick Madray was impressive in his college debut against Loyola, scoring 22 points on 8-for-10 shooting — including 3-for-4 from beyond the arc — in 27 minutes of action. He also chipped in nine points at Brown, and was named America East Rookie of the Week on Monday.
Cornell has won six of eight meetings all-time against the Bearcats, including last year’s 79-77 nailbiter in Vestal. Cornell led by 22 points with 13 minutes to play before BU went on a 3-point shooting tear — the home team hit nine of 11 from long range after halftime to pull to within three points with 50 seconds left. CU guard Galal Cancer hit one of two free throws in the closing seconds to put the game out of reach.
The BU-Cornell game is one of three Wednesday night involving Ivy teams; Brown travels across town to face Providence and Dartmouth hosts Bryant.
On Friday, two of the three Ivy teams in action are going up against storied Division I programs. Cornell invades the KFC Yum! Center to take on No. 3 Louisville in a game slated to be shown on ESPN3, and Columbia heads west to take on second-ranked Michigan State. The Cardinals have won three national titles (1980, ’86, 2013) and the Spartans were champions in 1979 and 2000, and runners-up to North Carolina in 2009.