Friday, February 28, 2014

Cornell Daily Sun Previews Big Red at Harvard/Dartmouth

After a devastating overtime loss on its home court last Saturday against Brown, the Red will embark on the final road trip of the season this weekend. First up will be the top-ranked team in the Ivy League, Harvard (22-4, 9-1 Ivy League), which comes into Friday’s matchup with a four-game win streak. The squad will then battle to move out of the cellar of the Ancient Eight when it takes on Dartmouth (9-15, 2-8 Ivy League) the following night.
The Red scratched and clawed its way into overtime against Brown last weekend, allowing the Bears to tie the game up on an uncontested layup with less than 20 seconds to go. Brown would eventually outscore Cornell 14-8 in overtime to escape with the win.
Cornell has not been lacking in grit and fight in its conference losses thus far. Leading scorers junior guard Devin Cherry and sophomore guard Nolan Cressler put up career performances against Brown, with Cherry playing every minute of the game and Cressler playing all but eight. The duo combined for 51 of the team’s 75 points. Cherry also helped out his teammates with 10 assists.
“Their production is always huge for us, in every game,” said senior guard Jake Matthews. “They are great at not only creating offense for themselves, but for others. They attract so much attention that it opens up opportunities for others to contribute offensively.”
While the team’s success rides on Cherry’s and Cressler’s abilities to find the open man, a focal point for the Red against Harvard will be on the defensive end of the floor.
Like Cornell, the Crimson’s strengths are in their guard play, which is led by sophomore point guard Siyani Chambers. The young guard is second in the conference in assists with 4.7 per game, and is joined in the backcourt by the league’s eighth leading scorer, junior Wesley Saunders.
The Crimson also features a deep bench, and while it leads the league in offensive production with 72.7 points per game, most of the scoring is evenly distributed throughout the roster. The Crimson has six players averaging more than nine points per game, and four of them are guards.
“We need to limit [their guards] from getting in the paint,” Matthews said. “If they are able to penetrate the lane, it sucks our defense in, leaving scorers open on the perimeter for easy scoring opportunities. If we can do that and then also embrace their physicality, we will be much better off.”
The Crimson took a 67-44 win away from Newman Arena when the teams matched up last time on Feb. 15. The Red has the opportunity to not only avenge that loss, but also to play spoiler, as Yale remains right on the heels of Harvard in the conference’s top two spots. A Harvard loss and a Yale win on Friday would put the teams in a tie for first place.
“There is definitely some incentive to play spoiler, and taking that approach allows you to play a little more loose[ly],” Matthews said.
The Red’s sole Ivy League win this season was a 70-67 victory over Dartmouth two weeks ago. If Cornell can replicate that success it could come out of the weekend on top of the Green in the conference standings.
After winning two of its first four Ivy games, the Green has dropped six straight. Those two wins came against Princeton and Penn. Dartmouth has three players averaging double figures, with leading scorer Gabas Maldunas just shy of a double-double with 11.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Maldunas will be a threat in the paint for the Red, which has struggled to both score and defend down low so far this season.
“I expect they will come out firing,” Matthews said. “They have a chance to play us on their home court with a little extra incentive after our first game, so we need to be prepared.”
As the season winds down, the Red has four more chances to prove that it can contend in the Ivy League with a team that has been ravaged by injuries. Though much of the season has been a disappointment, according to senior guard Jake Matthews, the team will have to leave the past behind going into these two tough matchups against Harvard and Dartmouth.
“We’ve definitely had our struggles this year, but our only option is to pull ourselves out of this hole and keep fighting,” he said. “We have two more opportunities this weekend to prove ourselves — that’s our mentality going in.”

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