Saturday, February 28, 2015

GAME RECAP: Cornell 57 Harvard 49

The scoreboard doesn’t lie, of course, but even when the numbers on the Cornell side started to get significantly greater than Harvard’s and the time began to dwindle, there was still little doubt that the Crimson being the Crimson, they would come back and win.
And sure enough, soon the run began. But on this night, it never finished. And Cornell did, with head coach Bill Courtney beating Tommy Amaker for the first time in 10 meetings and throwing the Ivy League race back into chaos with a 57-49 upset of the four-time defending Ivy champs at Newman Arena Friday night.
“It’s my first win over Harvard ever and my seniors first win over Harvard ever,” Courtney said. “It’s huge for those guys, and obviously that’s a sign of respect to what Tommy has built to have that kind of respect and to make this such a big win, even on our home court. It’s huge because he’s built a heck of a program.”
It was a night where Harvard (19-6, 9-2), who had looked like it had solved many of its offensive woes, never got any kind of consistency going offensively, finishing at 0.88 points per possession, but that only tells part of the story. The Crimson had 21 offensive rebounds (44.7%), but only converted them into 11 second-chance points as Cornell, led by Shonn Miller and David Onuorah (who combined for seven blocks) did what very few teams have been able to do against Harvard in the past couple of seasons, control the paint.
Wesley Saunders finished 6-21 from the field, while Siyani Chambers – although he hit his first two shots of the second half – ended up just 3-10, with no late magic this time around. Cornell dared non-shooters like Jonah Travis and Agunwa Okolie to beat them and, for the most part, they couldn’t do it.
“It was just a tough night for us,” Amaker said. “(Shonn) Miller is a great player and played that way tonight. You can see looking at the numbers how poorly we shot the ball and had no offensive flow and rhythm, and that just kills you in a game like this when both teams are struggling to put it in the basket and get to the foul line and make their free throws and we didn’t make enough of ours, and that becomes one of the stat lines that becomes critical when you’re not shooting it well from the floor. We didn’t earn it. We didn’t deserve it, and they did.”
Somewhat surprisingly for a team that is 300th nationally in offensive efficiency, Cornell is 15th nationally in free throw shooting (75.0%) and went 20-21 Friday night, that number alone going a long way to hold off Harvard’s late charge. Meanwhile, trailing 48-41 with 1:47 left, Corbin Miller, who had missed three free throws all season, was fouled on a three-point attempt and proceeded to miss all three attempts. That’s the way it went for the Crimson, who never led in the second half.
“That was somewhat indicative of the night for us of how tough it was to score,“ Amaker said. “For whatever reason, that happened. It’s unfortunate it happened tonight to him, but it happened.”
With Yale’s win, it now becomes a 3-game race to the finish between the Bulldogs and Harvard, and Yale would seem to have a leg up tomorrow night with a home game against Penn while the Crimson have to go down to New York City to take on Columbia. Yale and Harvard meet next Friday at Lavietes Pavilion.
“We just have to learn from this one,“ Saunders said. “We have to look at the things we did wrong and get ready for Columbia because they’re not going to feel sorry for us at all.”
For Cornell, this was probably the biggest win of Courtney’s tenure in Ithaca. This is his fifth year in charge after taking over for Steve Donahue, who only won three straight Ivy League titles and went to the Sweet 16 in 2010 before taking over at Boston College. The Big Red (13-14, 5-6) have not had a winning record since and suffered through a disastrous 2-26 (1-13 in Ivy play) campaign last season that saw Miller miss the entire season.
It is striking how much different Courtney’s teams play than his predecessor. Obviously, the 2010 Big Red team was special, yet they finished fourth in the nation in offensive efficiency (tops in three-point percentage), while posted generally mediocre defensive numbers. The Big Red now have very good athletes, as demonstrated by the late-game moves of Robert Hatter and Devin Cherry, but are just 318th nationally in eFG%, and even Friday, could have made things even easier on themselves by hitting a shot or two to Harvard completely out (Hatter was only 1-10 from the field). But Friday’s defensive performance pushed them to 64th nationally in efficiency and the Big Red are now 17th in two-point defense (42.3%).
“If you look at any game of ours when we’ve been successful, it’s because we’ve been the more scrappy team, the more aggressive team,” Courtney said. “We’re not the biggest team in the world. Even though Shonn and David do a great job of blocking shots, you know Galal (Cancer), Devin, Robert (Hatter), they just hustle and that really helped us win.”
Cornell led 22-21 at the half and extended it to 40-28 with 10:30 left before Saunders started to lead Harvard back, getting as close as 42-39 on another Saunders three with 5:20 remaining. Saunders had a chance to tie on the next possession, but missed and Cherry scored at the other end. Soon after that started the parade to the free throw line and Cornell did not blink.
It was an especially rewarding night for Shonn Miller, who finished with 24 points with those 15 rebounds and went 8-8 from the free throw line. He has taken some heat for his outside shooting, but drilled back-to-back three-pointers in the second half, and after Corbin Miller missed his free throws, hit a long jumper to basically put it out of reach.
“I normally don’t show emotion at all,” Shonn Miller said. “But I just felt when I hit that last shot, it was like, ‘Yes’. It felt good, the crowd was into it, and we were finally about to beat them (Harvard) for the first time in my career. It was just a lot built up to that point.”
Cornell will go off the radar the rest of the way, finishing with Dartmouth, Princeton, and Penn, but wins in two of those three would get them to .500 and possibly give them a shot at postseason play, still a far cry from the heights of five years ago, but a step in the right direction for the program.
Harvard? Well, they hope they can still step into the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season, even with Friday’s setback, but they’ll need more offense to do it.

ITHACA, N.Y—The Harvard men’s basketball players spoke to each other before Friday night’s game at Cornell. They couldn’t have another slow start after pulling out close wins three straight weekends. Eventually an early deficit or a close finish would come back to haunt the team, they said. They were right. 
The Crimson scored just 21 points in the first half Friday and never led in the second half of a 57-49 defeat to the Big Red (13-14, 5-6 Ivy). The loss drops Harvard (19-6, 9-2 Ivy) back into a tie with Yale for first in the Ivy League.
Senior wing Wesley Saunders nailed a couple shots to cut that gap to three points in the game's final minutes, but the Crimson comeback petered out as the Big Red went on an 6-0 run to grab a 50-41 lead. With 1:47 left in the game, Harvard’s comeback chances got another boost when sophomore Corbin Miller stepped to the line for three free throws. Miller, an 88 percent free-throw shooter coming in, missed the first free throw. Then he missed the second. Then the third clanged off the rim as well.
“That will probably never happen again in his career at Harvard,” Saunders said afterwards. “He can knock down free throws with his eye closed.”
“It was somewhat indicative of the night for us—how tough it was for us to score,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said.
Cornell, meanwhile, made its free throws (20-for-21 overall) late to ice the game, ending Harvard’s high-wire act of an eight-game winning streak with a thud.
Senior Shonn Miller led the Big Red with 24 points and 15 rebounds. The forward bullied his way to points down low and then stepped outside for a series of jumpers. Each seemed to come at a critical time, and each seemed to fall. His reactions grew increasingly animated, as did the 3,208 in attendance at Newman Arena.
“All year, we’ve been getting good shots because we are so good at getting in the lane,” Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. “A lot of times we miss. We had a couple times in the second half when those shots went into the basket and that changes the whole dynamic.”
Courtney jokingly added that he expects at least a thank-you note from Yale coach James Jones, whose team now controls its own destiny in the Ivy title race thanks to Cornell’s upset.
Cornell had not beaten Harvard since 2010—Courtney had never topped Amaker—but the Big Red proved tough from the jump, opening the game on a 6-1 run. It ended the first-half with a final-minute alley-oop that gave the hosts the halftime lead, 22-21. The score was nearly identical to what it was when these two teams faced off in Cambridge two weeks ago.
But whereas the Crimson stormed back to win that game handily with a 40-16 second half, Cornell never let the Harvard offense get going in the second half Friday.
Courtney said he stressed to his team the importance of getting back and setting up on defense rather than allowing Harvard junior co-captain Siyani Chambers to generate easy points in transition. The result was a 25 percent shooting performance from the Crimson and its lowest scoring output in Ivy play this year.
“We didn’t earn this tonight,” Amaker said. “We didn’t deserve to win tonight, and that’s the part that’s as tough to stomach for me as any.”
Harvard stayed within striking range thanks to 21 offensive rebounds and by limiting Cornell to 36 percent shooting on the other end of the floor. Still, the Crimson could never muster enough offensive firepower to make any of that matter.
For three weeks, Harvard found offense when it needed to. It eked out a 52-50 win in New Haven, hit a bucket with 2.9 seconds left to dispatch Columbia after blowing a 17-point lead, and made up for an eight-point halftime deficit against Princeton in its last outing.
Friday, the Crimson finally got burnt by a slow start. And the Ivy League title race is radically different as a result.

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Senior Shonn Miller was the individual dominant force, but it was a Cornell team defensive effort that lifted the Big Red to a 57-49 victory over Harvard on Friday evening at Newman Arena. The forward had 24 points, including the 1,000th of his career, and matched a career high with 15 rebounds in knocking the Crimson from alone on its first place perch thanks to an effort that limited the visitors to 25 percent shooting.

Miller hit on 7-of-16 shots from the floor and all eight free throws, becoming the 25th Cornell player to hit the century mark when he drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 10:49 left in regulation, putting the home team up 40-28 to match its biggest lead of the night. His 15 rebounds matched a career high set three other times, including twice this season, and he added three blocks and zero turnovers in 38 minutes of action.

While Miller was the focal point, everyone that hit the floor contributed in a defensive effort that helped limit Ivy League Player of the Year candidate Wesley Saunders to 6-of-21 shooting and two-time first-team all-league pick Siyani Chambers to 3-of-10. The Crimson stayed in the game with 21 offensive rebounds and a 43-33 edge on the glass overall, but Cornell hit 20-of-21 free throws for the 10th best single-game effort in school history from the line. Cornell also blocked 10 shots, the fourth-best total in a single game in Big Red history.

Devin Cherry had 15 points and Galal Cancer notched nine points and four assists. David Onuorah had four rebounds and four huge blocked shots in the win.

Saunders, despite his tough shooting night, still ended the night with 19 points, 11 rebounds and two assists and Steve Moundou-Missi had 13 points and seven boards. After shooting just 22 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes, the Big Red limited the Crimson to 28 percent after halftime.

Cornell set the tone early with its defense and never relented. Harvard missed its first seven shots and fell behind 6-1 after Onuorah blocked a dunk attempt on one end and raced down the court to pick up a missed shot and lay it in. The five-point advantage was as big as either team would have before halftime.

The first half was a back-and-forth affair featuring five ties and eight lead changes in a 20-minute span that saw Cornell lead just 22-21. The Big Red's go-ahead basket came on a Miller reverse dunk on an alley-oop feed from Cherry with just under minute remaining.

Harvard had brief leads at 11-9 and 15-12, but both times Cornell answered – first with a Galal Cancer three-point play and the second with a 6-0 spurt that included jumpers by Cherry, Miller and JoJo Fallas.

The second half was entertaining for the national audience on CBS Sports Network. Robert Hatter got free for his only field goal of the game, a 3-pointer that extended Cornell's lead to 25-21 2:26 into the half. Harvard wouldn't score for another nearly two minutes and only after missing its first four shots and turning the ball over five times on its first nine possessions of the half.

Miller scored five straight points, including a 3-pointer, to close out the 12-2 run over the first 7:25 of the second half. Harvard twice cut the lead to three, the last time at 44-41 with three minutes remaining, but both times Cherry answered for the Big Red. He drove the lane for a tough layup and then hit a pair of free throws to get the lead back to two possessions each time.

With his second 3-pointer of the day, Miller reached the 18-point mark needed to become the program's 25th 1,000-point scorer. He ended the night with 1,006 points and sits in 24th place, just eight points away from jumping all the way to 21st.His three blocked shots make him the fourth Cornell player to surpass 150 blocked shots (152) and his 15 rebounds pushed him to 16th in career rebounds (582). Miller's 17th double-double of his career is also just one shy of the school record of 18 by Bernard Jackson '91 and Mike Davis '80.

The win was No. 50 for head coach Bill Courtney and gave Cornell 11 wins more than a season ago – the fourth-largest turnaround in Ivy League history.

Cornell will celebrate its six seniors (Cancer, Cherry, Miller, Deion Giddens, Dave LaMore and Ned Tomic) prior to Saturday's 6 p.m. showdown with Dartmouth at Newman Arena.

ITHACA, N.Y. – The Harvard men's basketball team suffered a 57-49 setback at Cornell Friday night to relinquish sole possession of first place in the Ivy League standings.
Harvard (19-6, 9-2 Ivy League) shot just 25.4 percent (15-59) for the game and went 14-of-23 at the line. Cornell (13-14, 5-6 Ivy League), which halted the Crimson's eight-game win streak, wasn't much better from the field (16-44), but hit each of its first 20 free throw attempts and finished 20-of-21 at the line to put away the victory.
Harvard had entered the night with a one-game lead in the Ivy League standings, but the loss, coupled with Yale's (20-8, 9-2 Ivy League) 81-60 win over Princeton, pulled the Bulldogs even with just three games to play. The Crimson will remain on the road tomorrow for a 7 p.m. showdown at Columbia while Yale hosts Penn at 7 p.m. Both games can be seen live on the Ivy League Digital Network.
Wesley Saunders registered 19 points and 11 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the year, including 13 points and six boards after the break. Steve Moundou-Missi contributed 13 points and seven rebounds, with Siyani Chambers chipping in eight points, three assists and two steals.
Cornell was paced by Shonn Millers' 24-point, 15-rebound, three-block performance.
Harvard began the game cold, shooting 0-of-7 from the floor before Moundou-Missi got inside for a pair of baskets. His second tied the game at 6-6 as he finished through contact for an and-one, and Chambers spotted up from the top of the key to give the Crimson its first lead of the night, 11-9. Cornell responded to go in front twice more, however, using a 6-0 run on the second occasion for an 18-15 edge.
Saunders quickly erased the deficit with consecutive baskets, but a highlight-reel alley-oop from Devin Cherry to Miller put the Big Red up at intermission, 22-21.
The pace quickened at the start of the second half and Cornell was the early beneficiary, opening a 34-23 advantage thanks to a 12-2 run. Chambers quieted the crowd as he hit a long jumper, but the Big Red answered right back with a Cherry 3-pointer to take a 37-25 lead.
Chambers came back down to the other end and completed a three-point play, and Saunders responded to a Miller triple with one of his own to keep the margin at 40-31. Following a Cherry bucket Harvard's defense clamped down, however, holding Cornell without a field goal for nearly five minutes as it pulled within 42-39 on a second Saunders 3.
The Crimson was unable to complete the comeback, however, as the Big Red went 11-of-12 at the free throw line over the final 2:41 to secure the 57-49 win.
Game Notes: Harvard's loss snapped its 12-game win streak in Ivy League road games dating back to last year … The loss also snapped Harvard's current eight-game win streak, and a nine-game win streak versus Cornell … Wesley Saunders finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season, sixth of his career … Wesley Saunders has led Harvard in scoring 17 times this season and in rebounding seven times … Corbin Miller has made at least one 3-pointer in 24 of Harvard's 25 games … Steve Moundou-Missi played in his 118th career game, matching Oliver McNally '12 and Kyle Casey '13-14 for the second-most games played in program history … Harvard's 43 rebounds were the program's highest total versus Cornell under Tommy Amaker, The Thomas G. Stemberg '71 Family Endowed Coach for Harvard Men's Basketball.

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