ITHACA — Cornell’s men’s basketball team had a golden opportunity to pick up its first victory of the season Wednesday night, and seemed poised to get it with 12 minutes to play and a 19-point lead.
But Binghamton University, as youthful and desperate for a victory as was Cornell, staged a remarkable comeback and won, 89-79, sending the 0-3 Big Red off to Kentucky with a bitter taste in its mouth.
“It’s obviously very disappointing,” CU coach Bill Courtney said Thursday from the Newark airport, while waiting with his team to depart for Louisville for Friday night’s matchup with the third-ranked, defending national champion Cardinals.
“We controlled the game, had a 19-point lead with 12 minutes to go,” he said, “and any time you have that kind of a lead at home, you expect to get a win out of it. It’s part of the process for us, but at the same time it’s extremely disappointing because you want to see some of the fruits of your labor.”
Bearcats freshman guard Marlon Beck scored a game-high 27 points off the bench, making six of nine 3-pointers, as the visitors picked up their first win in three tries this season. Sophomore guard Jordan Reed added 25 points and 14 rebounds, while freshman forward Nick Madray also eclipsed the 20-point plateau for the second time this season by netting 22 points.
The Bearcats, who’ve won a total of five games the previous two seasons, scored 59 points in the second half, a school Division I record.
“It is one win, we’re 1-2 so you don’t want to overreact,” Binghamton second-year coach Tommy Dempsey said. “But in the position that we’re in as a program right now, it was a big win. There’s no disguising that. That was a big win for our kids. Hopefully it will give us a little momentum, but we’ll see.”
The Bearcats scored points on their final 19 possessions Wednesday night, a stunning turnaround for a team that had scored 30 points in the first half on 8-for-26 shooting. They went 16-for-28 from the floor after halftime, including 8-for-12 from 3-point range.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Binghamton,” Courtney said. “Part of it is us and a breakdown in some of our defenses, but a big part of it is they made a lot of pull-up 3-point shots. They made plays and we didn’t make plays.”
For Cornell, sophomore guard Nolan Cressler scored 19 points, and junior guard Devin Cherry chipped in 17. After shooting a red-hot 58 percent in the first half, CU went cold, shooting 38 percent (12-for-32) after the break.
After back-to-back losses to Syracuse University and Loyola University, Cornell hit the Bearcats with a first-half barrage from behind the arc that included four players making long-range shots and went 6-for-13 as a team.
The Bearcats’ deficit reached as many as 18 points, 43-25, in the first half on Deion Giddens’ layup with 1:53 left, but the Bearcats trimmed it to 43-30 at halftime. That deficit expanded to 61-42 with 12:44 remaining in the second half.
The Bearcats got within 66-57 on a pair of free throws by Reed with 6:42 remaining. With four minutes left the Bearcats pulled within 75-70 on a pair of free throws by freshman guard Yosef Yacob, who finished with seven points and nine assists. Madray then stole a pass in the post, and scored on a put-back to make it 75-72.
The Bearcats took their first lead of the game, 78-77, when Reed caught a pass at the top of the key, drove the lane and went right at Cornell’s 6-foot-9 230-pound center David Onuorah, and made a layup while getting knocked to the floor. Reed made the ensuing free throw.
Louisville (2-0) is coming off a 97-69 thrashing of Hofstra on Tuesday night. Senior guard Russ Smith led Louisville with 30 points while backcourt mate Chris Jones added 20 points on 7-for-13 shooting with seven assists.
“We have to try to figure out a way to slow those guards down a little bit,” Courtney said. “We obviously had a problem with that (Wednesday) night, particularly with Marlon Beck scoring on us, and we have to get better at guarding perimeter players. We’re not going to have a better test than Louisville.”
Courtney said it doesn’t matter who the opponent happens to be — his team just has to get better at what it does.
“With this group, we knew we might take some lumps,” he said. “Did we expect to win a game that we had a seven-point lead with four minutes to go? Absolutely. But at the same time, we can’t discard what we’re trying to do and build, so no matter what happens (Friday night), no matter what the score is, we’ve got to continue to play the way we need to play to be successful.”
After the Louisville game, Cornell heads to Colgate on Wednesday before returning home for games Nov. 22 against Siena and Nov. 25 against Radford.