Friday, February 27, 2015

News and Notes: Friday Edition

Below, news and notes...

  • The Ivy League named Galal Cancer to its weekly Honor Roll and notes:
Galal Cancer, Cornell (Sr., G - Albany, N.Y.)
19 points, 3 rebounds at Yale
13 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists at Brown

Week 1, 11/17/14-Shonn Miller, Cornell
Week 2, 11/24/14-Justin Sears, Yale
Week 3, 12/1/14-Wes Saunders, Harvard
Week 4, 12/8/14-Javier Duren, Yale
Week 5, 12/15/14-Cedric Kuakumensah, Brown*
Week 6, 12/22/14-Maodo Lo, Columbia
Week 7,12/29/14-Shonn Miller, Cornell
Week 8, 1/5/15-Javier Duren, Yale
Week 9, 1/12/15-Henry Caruso, Princeton
Week 10, 1/19/15-Javier Duren, Yale
Week 11, 1/26/15-Justin Sears, Yale/Alex Mitola, Dartmouth
Week 12, 2/2/15-Justin Sears, Yale
Week 13, 2/9/15-Wes Saunders, Harvard
Week 14, 2/16/15-Justin Sears, Yale
Week 15, 2/23/15-Maodo Lo, Columbia/Wes Saunders, Harvard

Week 1, 11/17/14-Antonio Woods, Penn
Week 2, 11/24/14-Mike Auger, Penn
Week 3, 12/1/14-Amir Bell, Princeton
Week 4, 12/8/14-Darnell Foreman, Penn
Week 5, 12/15/14-Sam Jones, Penn*
Week 6, 12/22/14-Kyle Castlin, Columbia
Week 7, 12/30/14-Aaron Young, Princeton
Week 8, 1/5/15-Kyle Castlin, Columbia
Week 9, 1/12/15-Makai Mason, Yale
Week 10, 1/19/15-Antonio Woods, Penn
Week 11, 1/26/15-Aaron Young, Princeton
Week 12, 2/2/15-Kyle Castlin, Columbia
Week 13, 2/9/15-Miles Wright, Dartmouth
Week 14, 2/16/15-Miles Wright, Dartmouth
Week 15, 2/23/15-Antonio Woods, Penn
* = Cornell idle
"Newman Nation" will bid farewell to six seniors this weekend as the Cornell men's basketball team plays its final home games of the regular season against Harvard and Dartmouth.
The Big Red (12-14 overall, 4-6 Ivy League) hosts the first-place Crimson (19-5, 9-1) at 6:30 p.m. on Friday in a game to be shown on the CBS Sports Network (Time Warner channel 315). Then on Saturday, Cornell welcomes Dartmouth (10-14, 3-7) to Newman Arena for a 6 p.m. tip-off.
This weekend will be the final home games for Cornell's six upperclassmen -- forwards Shonn Miller, Deion Giddens and Ned Tomic, center Dave LaMore and guards Galal Cancer and Devin Cherry. The group will be honored in a ceremony prior to tip-off on Saturday.
Miller and Cancer have keyed the Big Red's turnaround from last year's 2-26 campaign, which both players missed, Miller due to a shoulder injury and Cancer for personal reasons. Miller, a strong Ivy Player of the Year candidate, is second in the league in both scoring (16.2 ppg.) and rebounding (8.2 ppg.), third in blocked shots (1.9 per game) and fifth in free-throw percentage (83.5, 116-for-139).
Cancer is fourth on the team in scoring (9.9 ppg.), behind sophomore guard Robert Hatter (11.5 ppg.) and Cherry (10.4 ppg.)
Defense has been another big reason for the 10-game improvement thus far — Cornell is holding opponents to 38.4 percent shooting from the floor and 31.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Harvard, the preseason favorite in the league, has won eight in a row since being upset at home by Dartmouth, 70-61, on Jan. 24. The Crimson is led by All-Ivy senior swingman Wesley Saunders (16.2 ppg.) and junior guard Siyani Chambers (9.7 ppg., 4.1 apg.). The Crimson has been winning with defense; it ranks 11th in the nation at 56.6 points per game allowed.
The Crimson stormed past the Red, 61-40, in their first meeting on Feb. 14 in Cambridge, Mass.
Dartmouth, which takes on Columbia Friday night in New York, has won two of its last three after dropping an 81-72 overtime decision to Cornell two weeks ago in Hanover, N.H. Alex Mitola (12.7 ppg.) and Gabas Maldunas (11.2 ppg.) lead the club offensively.
Cornell basketball
Friday: Harvard (19-5 overall, 9-1 Ivies) at Cornell (12-14, 4-6), 6:30 p.m., Newman Arena
Saturday: Dartmouth (10-14, 3-7; at Columbia Friday) at Cornell, 6 p.m., Newman Arena
  • Black Shoe Diaries referred to Penn State's win over Cornell in November as a "miracle finish."
The penultimate weekend of Ivy League play is upon us, dear reader. The allure of spring break, shining like The Strip in the far distance, is obscured by the impending cloud of midterms and blocking group drama. Housing day teasers have begun to usurp trite Buzzfeed articles on the author’s ever-prescient Facebook Timeline. As muddy ice piles grow, the Brown school newspaper’s blog has debuted a “Lana del Foreplay” column to keep spirits high amongst yet another Derrick Rose injury.
Indeed, it can only be spring.
Last weekend brought some more clarity to the Ivy League title picture. The Gentleman’s C’s continued their up and down play; a week after losing to Dartmouth, Columbia swept Brown and Yale to knock the Elis a full game back of leader Harvard. Cornell looked dispirited in consecutive losses, with its offense dropping to 307th in Ken Pomeroy’s standings.
Harvard completed a four-game home sweep with a now-characteristic dismantling of Penn and comeback victory against Princeton. It was the fourth consecutive sweep of the artists formerly known as the Killer P’s; afterwards Harvard coach Tommy Amaker praised the grit of his squad, which has won eight straight games and controlled the entire second half on Saturday.
The race has shaped up much like this year’s football one, where an unexpected Elis loss put Harvard in first and set up a climactic late-season tilt for the title. Unlike in previous years, Yale hardly wet the bed (or, as it is wont, defecate in its laundry) in the big game. A week out, a similarly titanic tilt feels inevitable. Both teams cannot—and will not—look past weekend foes and top-four Ancient Eight squads Princeton (at Yale Friday) and Columbia (vs. Harvard Saturday).
Before moving on to the games, however, I’d like to take a moment to honor the seniors. While Harvard’s senior day is not until next week, this weekend will feature the final home contest for half the league’s eldest members. From All-Ivy talents like Cornell’s Shonn Miller to key rotation players like Columbia’s Steve Frankoski, Senior Day will be a rightful celebration of the sacrifices made and careers had by the league’s greatest talents.
Frankoski in particular is emblematic of the classic archetype that has shaped the Ancient Eight race all season—the gritty veteran role player doing his job. These set doesn' include senior Miller, Dartmouth's Gabas Maldunas, or Harvard's Wesley Saunders-each unquestionably one of their team's brightest stars and the focal point of nearly each offensive set.
On Columbia, it is Cory Ostekowski—a smart, instinctive center who made six clutch free throws in the victory against Yale. Cornell has Galal Cancer, a savvy guard with good range whose 17 points were instrumental in the squad’s win over Princeton, its best victory over the season. Penn’s Greg Louis is his team’s second best shooter, a reserve who ranks second on the team in rebounding.
Harvard’s Jonah Travis is the quintessential example of this stereotype. Sidelined at the beginning of the season with injuries, Travis has been the Crimson’s first big man off the bench during its eight-game run and its most savvy inside player. An expert in drawing contact at the rim, Travis uses excellent footwork and sneaky pump fakes to draw defenders in the air—going around them for easy layups or into them to draw fouls. The team rallies around him; if junior co-captain Siyani Chambers is its heart, Travis is its motor.
Travis, Ostekowski, Princeton’s Ben Hazel, and Yale’s Armani Cotton—forgive the trite saying—will not draw the headlines. Yet, all will feature heavily into how the league shakes out. Don’t sleep on these guys.
Without further delay, onto the games.
One of the most startling facts of the Crimson’s four-year run is the 22-4 road record the team has posted over the stretch. Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, not getting the buzz he should for Ivy League Coach of the Year, is a master of motivation, preaching that the team be “tough and together” on the road. Against a Cornell team boasting a 308th-ranked offense, Harvard should be turning its focus to Columbia 10 minutes into the second half.
Pick: Harvard
The elven mavens of Hanover have flailed since an early season win over Harvard that looks more and more flukish with each passing weekend. Lead guard Alex Mitola is down to 40-percent shooting on the year, and only one rotation player is shooting better than 50 percent. However, Cornell police may have discovered the next Walter White—arresting a twenty-something holding 250 bags of heroin this week.
Better Call Saul, as the kids say.
Pick: Dartmouth
  • The Crimson also previews Harvard's weekend and writes:
Just four weeks ago, the Harvard men’s basketball team (19-5, 9-1 Ivy) walked out of Lavietes Pavilion, its home court, and into an air of doubt. For a team that had been placed by the Associated Press in the preseason Top 25—the first time an Ivy League team garnered the honor since the 1974-1975 season—losing in Cambridge to Dartmouth was an upset, to say the least.
Fast-forward one month. The Crimson has rattled off eight straight wins, swept Penn and Princeton, and now sits alone atop the Ancient Eight.
Though Harvard has already beaten both Columbia (13-11, 5-5) and Cornell (12-14, 4-6), penciling in another perfect weekend for the Crimson would be ill-advised.
Two weeks ago, Harvard handled the Big Red. Dominating on the glass and in the paint, the Crimson turned a one-possession deficit at the half into a 21-point blowout win.
Stifling Cornell to just 23.9 percent shooting from the floor, Harvard held senior Shonn Miller to just 10 points, an off-night for a forward that drops 16 a game.
“It’s a tough matchup because he plays on the base line yet has perimeter skills,” Crimson coach Tommy Amaker said of Miller on Wednesday. “He shoots the ball from three, and we will do the best we can.”
Miller will enter Friday’s contest hot off of a 27-point performance against Brown last weekend. As a result, if Harvard is able to once again contain Miller, scoring may once again be scarce for Cornell.
While Friday’s matchup may not appear so daunting, it is the game that will take place 24 hours later that could really test Amaker’s squad. The last time the Crimson traveled to New York City, it took two overtimes, 22 points from junior captain Siyani Chambers and captain Steve Moundou-Missi, and 19 points from Wesley Saunders in order to get the win.
“Our league is hard,” Amaker admonished. “And that second night is brutal.”
Facing statistically the best defensive team in the league, an already sold-out crowd at Levien Gymnasium, and a team hungry for revenge, Harvard cannot afford to fall behind early to the Lions.
Preventing that from happening will fall on the shoulders of junior swingman Wesley Saunders. Saunders is coming off a weekend in which he averaged 19 points, four assists, and seven rebounds, earning him his third Ivy League Player of the Week honor this year.
This season, the Crimson has gone how Saunders, its reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, has gone. While slow starts have plagued Harvard all year long, Saunders has emerged as a Superman figure with big second half performances to save the day.
“We have a couple of games where we haven’t played very well on the offensive end in the first half,” Amaker said. “We need some help and a spark, and our kids have dug in a lot deeper.”
Though Saunders has continually come to the rescue, it has been senior forward Jonah Travis that has sparked the Crimson off of the bench. After starting a couple of games at the beginning of the season, Travis has become a vital asset to Amaker off of the bench.
During Harvard’s current win streak, Travis is averaging nearly 8.75 points and 4.25 rebounds per game, all in the role of reserve. When the Crimson nearly squandered a 17-point lead against Columbia in their matchup earlier this season, the eight points from Travis off the bench in the second half alone proved to be vital.
“It always helps to have guys come in like that; the rest of us can feed off that energy,” sophomore shooting guard Corbin Miller said of Travis after a game against Boston College this year. “It is important that we have a player that can come in and do it for us. The rest of us definitely feed off that.”
Defensively, the key to stopping Columbia will be shutting down junior guard Maodo Lo. Lo dropped 22 points against Harvard the last time out, and the Berlin-native just posted a 53-point weekend over his last two matchups.
Amaker’s go-to for stopping high-scorers like Lo this season has been a combination of looks, including Saunders, Chambers, and Junior Agunwa Okolie.
With just four contests left in the season-long tournament that is the Ivy League, Amaker is not taking anything for granted.
“It’s a long horse race,” he said, “and it still is.”
This season, the Yale men’s basketball team has become known for its prolific offense, which scores an Ivy League-best 68.8 points per game. In particular, the team’s success lies in its ability to rebound the ball and grab offensive boards.
The Bulldogs boast the best rebounding margin in the conference at +5.6 and notch a league-leading 11.7 offensive rebounds per game. The Elis have two of the top 10 rebounders in the league in forward Justin Sears ’16 and guard Armani Cotton ’15, who average 7.4 and 5.5 boards per game, respectively.
“We really push ourselves in practice, chase after the ball, and it’s really just about effort, regardless of your size, just how much determination you have to get the ball,” Cotton said following the team’s Feb. 20 win against Cornell. “It’s the culture of our team at this point, regardless of what size we have … At this point it’s second nature. You just have to go get it.”
The emphasis that the Elis put on rebounding the ball is clear in practice and has translated onto the court. Against Cornell on Friday night, the Bulldogs outrebounded the Big Red 46–26, and Cornell head coach Bill Courtney could only admire the effort with which the Elis attacked the glass, saying that the Elis treat every rebound “like it’s the last possession of [the game].”
The Cornell men’s basketball team had a tough trip to New England over the weekend. The Red dropped games to both Yale and Brown, leaving the squad standing with a 4-6 record in Ivy play and putting the Red in fifth place with just four more league games remaining.

The Red took on Yale in a primetime matchup Friday evening. The game featured two strong forwards and candidates for the All-Ivy team in Cornell’s senior Shonn Miller and Yale’s Justin Sears. Miller scored nine points on 4/10 shooting while Sears racked up 12 points on 4/8 shooting. The star front court players fought hard, but ultimately left both teams at an offensive draw, giving way for the guards to dominate the offensive side of the ball. Cornell had two players in double figures with seniors guard Devin Cherry’s 17 points and senior guard Galal Cancer’s 19, and Yale saw guard Javier Duren lead the scoring with 13 points. The Bulldogs took a seven-point lead going into halftime and ultimately pushed that lead to 11, winning, 62-51.
“We weren’t able to score from many angles. They did a good job of shutting down our game plan. We didn’t execute,” said head coach Bill Courtney.
The Red was unable to establish much of a rhythm in the game, something that the squad had been doing well with in recent weeks. Going into Saturday’s game against Brown, it was evident that the coaching staff wanted to make a point of controlling the pace of the game.
“We wanted to keep playing our game. We want to play how we practice,” Courtney said.
The Red did just that and came out strong against the Bears, taking an 11-point lead into halftime. That lead got as big as 17 points before the Bears began a comeback. Early on, the Red was able to control the game’s pace and get into a solid offensive flow, hitting 46 percent of its shots in the first half. That went down to 31 percent in the second half, while Brown had the opposite happen to them. The Bears shot 34 percent in the first half and 46 percent in the second.
The game came down to the wire in the final few minutes, with Miller coming up big for the Red. He hit a huge 3-pointer with under four minutes to play, and followed that up by drawing a charge with just under a minute to go. The Red was up, 56-55, when Brown forward Cedric Kuakumensah hit a runner to give the Bears the lead with 1.8 seconds remaining. Shonn Miller’s last chance shot fell short.
“It was a disappointing loss. We played well for a lot of the time, but they came up when they had to,” Courtney said.
The loss was heartbreaking. Not just from the short-term perspective, but as a result of this loss, the Red haw been eliminated from competing for the Ivy League title and the NCAA tournament spot that comes with it. However, the squad still has a chance of making a separate post-season tournament. The Red will play host to Harvard and Dartmouth this weekend in its final two home games of the regular season.
Brown 57, Cornell 56
For the first 23 minutes of play Saturday night, the Cornell (12-14, 4-6) game looked much like the Columbia game. The Big Red jumped to an early lead, the Bruno defense continued to struggle and the opponent’s best player — this time forward Shonn Miller — was lighting up the scoreboard. Miller had 16 points at the intermission, and his team led by 11.
Martin said they remained optimistic at half, but when play resumed, Cornell scored the first three baskets of the second half. Martin called another timeout; the nearly empty Pizzitola Center was silent. It was as close to rock bottom as the team had been all year. But the players believed they could overcome the deficit.
“When we were down 17, we came together after one of the timeouts and we were just like, ‘We’re fine. We’re going to win this game,’” said Tavon Blackmon ’17.
His words proved to be prophetic. With 16:44 remaining, Steven Spieth ’17 was fouled on a reverse layup for an and-one to spark the run. In the next four minutes, Blackmon and Spieth each had four, Maia hit a free throw and, suddenly, the down-and-out Bears were within five points.
While Spieth, Blackmon and Kuakumensah led an offensive surge, the comeback was really a product of defense. Thanks to Bruno’s increased ball pressure and energy, Cornell shot 5-of-21 in the game’s final 17 minutes.
“We were so good defensively,” Martin said. “We were focused on one stop at a time.”
But the game was not yet won, and Miller hit a long three with 3:46 to play that silenced the crowd and pushed the lead to six.
A minute later, Maia ran down a loose ball and flipped it to J.R. Hobbie ’17, who hit the second-biggest shot of the game: a trey from the corner to cut the lead to 56-55.
The score stood for two minutes when Cornell’s Darryl Smith grabbed a wide-open offensive rebound under the basket with 19 seconds remaining. He seemed destined either to extend the lead with a put-back or to try to run out the remaining seconds. He chose the former, but it backfired when Kuakumensah came flying across the lane to reject the attempt, pull down the rebound and set up the final play.
“He doesn’t usually block shots,” Martin joked after the game about Kuakumensah, who became the Ivy League’s second all-time leader in blocks with five against the Big Red, giving him 230 for his career. “It was a huge play.”
Martin called a timeout with nine seconds left to draw up a play. Two inbound options — Hobbie and Spieth — were both covered, so Blackmon entered the ball to Kuakumensah at the top of the key, who was supposed to get the ball back to Blackmon.
“We were trying to get Tavon the ball, but they denied him,” Kuakumensah said. “I just tried to get to the hoop, and luckily it fell.”
The broken play led to a tightly contested, off-balance floater from Kuakumensah. It was not the shot the Bears wanted, but it proved to be exactly what they needed.


Anonymous said...

On behalf of the fans of seven Ivy League schools, congratulations to Cornell for defeating Harvard. There is no sweeter achievement in Ivy men's basketball. Enjoy the delectable taste, Big Red, and job well done!

Anonymous said...

Whoa, whoa, whoa...Hold on a minute here. Didn't Miller's medical red shirt last year guarantee him a fifth season with the program? Or did I miss something?

Old Grad said...

Wow. 40 minutes of intense defense. Best game I have seen the guys play in a long time. David really stepped up o defense and Shaun was his usual intimidating self. Congratulations to all of the guys for an exciting evening. And beating Harvard was just icing on the cake.