On to the next | Sophomore guard Nolan Cressler said his team is looking at its mistakes against Columbia and hoping to improve against Brown and Yale.
In a league where 14 games decide who will go to the NCAA tournament, the Red’s 0-2 start in Ivy League is troubling, but certainly not crippling. Only two teams in the Ancient Eight have undefeated conference records right now, and if the Red can catch fire, the title is open for the taking.
The Red showed promising signs against Columbia this weekend, one of the two undefeated Ivy squads, and a team that has won seven of its last eight games. Both games against the Lions have featured first halves where the two teams traded baskets. In the opening matchup, Columbia led by three at the half, and in the second game, Cornell took the same lead into the locker room. The final twenty minutes continue to plague the Red, as the squad turned the ball over a total of ten times in the second halves of the losses to the Lions.
“It was good to play competitive, but we still lost both games to them,” said sophomore guard Nolan Cressler. “We are looking at what we did wrong and what we need to correct to get better and move forward.”
This means looking ahead to the next obstacle: a four-game conference road trip that kicks off with Brown Friday. The Bears are 1-1 in the conference and are coming off a 73-56 victory last weekend against Yale.
Leading scorer Sean McGonagill — who is averaging 19.3 points per game, the highest scoring average amongst the Ancient Eight — had a career game against the Bulldogs, scoring 29 points en route to an Ivy League Player of the Week title. The Red will also have to keep center Rafael Maia out of the paint. The junior is averaging 10 points and over eight rebounds per game.
“They run a very good offense, similar to Columbia,” Cressler said. “They are definitely improved this year. They play hard and have a lot of different plays we need to be ready to defend.”
The Red’s defense was one of the highlights in the series against Columbia. Cornell held the league’s leader in three-point field goal percentage to below 30 percent in both games, while forcing the Lions to turn the ball over 22 times.
According to Cressler, the Red’s defensive intensity from the start is a good indicator of how the game will trend. Because the team is at its best in the open court, when it has room to drive to the basket, forcing turnovers is especially important.
“We just know that if we want to get open court, fast break situations, we have to get stops,” he said. “Our defense will turn into instant offense.”
Another sign of good things to come for the Red has been the play off the bench. Senior Jake Matthews, junior Ned Tomic and freshman Darryl Smith all proved their ability to contribute last weekend. Smith had 12 points and five rebounds in the first game and was named Ivy League Rookie of the week. In the second matchup, Matthews had eight points, including two big threes and Tomic had 11 points and pulled down seven boards.
“All three of them bring something different to the table for us,” Cressler said. “Darryl uses his athleticism to make plays and get to the rim. Ned plays with fire and provides energy for all of us. Jake steps up and hits shots and always competes.”
Brown is just the first roadblock the Red will have to storm through if it hopes to move up the Ivy ranks. Leading scorer Justin Hicks and Yale await the Red Saturday in New Haven. The Bulldogs lost their most recent matchup to Brown, but defeated the Bears the week before.
“We are just taking it day by day, trying to get better every day,” Cressler said. “We know that if we do this, we will get some wins going in the league. Road games are always tough in the Ivy League, but that is the fun of it.”