Last season, the Big Red basketball watched as their bitter rival, the Harvard Crimson, celebrated a victory that would knock the Big Red out of the Ivy League Tournament. Nine months later, the Cornell Men’s basketball team hopes to use its experience to set themselves on a track to better their 12-16 record from a season ago.
As with most teams, the Big Red has started the season with non-conference games and, prior to a 15-day break earlier this month, had seen a 4-4 record to kick off the year. While early wins over Binghamton, Canton, Lafayette, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology offered some early season positive takeaways, the early losses provide an interesting view into the rest of the season.
A notable defeat that stands out among the early season blemishes for the Big Red was a 91-74 loss to annual contender to the American Athletic Conference, UConn Huskies. Despite the 17-point decision, the Big Red showed the ability to start hot in big games by going toe-to-toe with the Huskies in the first half, leading 23-20. A strong showing early in a game can be the difference for Cornell when it comes to the Ivy League. A 41-point second half is nothing to overlook when examining the positive takeaways from the loss, proving that despite trailing, the Big Red is willing to work until the final buzzer.
In a game that was heavily one-sided a season ago when Cornell fell 77-45, the Big Red made a much better game out of this season’s matchup with the Syracuse Orange. A team that has been in and out of the AP Top 25 poll throughout the early season, the Orange returned many of the same players that faced the Big Red a season ago. In a similar fashion, as it did in the game against UConn, the Big Red outscored the Orange from the bench, picking up 15 points to the Syracuse’s eight. Cornell found a fair amount of offense in the game, accumulated 27 of its 55 points from beyond the three-point line. Senior Matt Morgan tallied a large majority of the 27 points from deep, draining six chances from beyond the arc. In the second half, the Big Red fought to erase a 15-point halftime deficit, proving that the late game fight is here to stay.
The Big Red have found a leader to rally behind in wins and losses in the form of Morgan, who in his senior season continues to make the push to climb up the draft boards of NBA teams. Through the opening portion of the season, he racked up the most points on the team, a lead which, after the Syracuse game, was 100 points more than the next Big Red player. Morgan has been deadly from beyond the arc, tallying 96 points on better than 50 percent shooting. The impressive start comes as no surprise as Morgan outscored the entire Ivy League last season. The playmaker entered the NBA Draft each of the two previous years before returning to finish his athletic eligibility and finish his studies.
Another key figure that the Big Red will look to rally behind as the season progresses is Jimmy Boeheim, the sophomore who has yet to acquire a start but has made a big splash off the bench in the early goings. Averaging just under 12 points per game to start the year, Boeheim offers a dual threat to the game plan with his shooting and his ability to, up to this point, grab the second most rebounds on the team behind Morgan.
With Ivy League play getting underway at home against Columbia next month, The Big Red certainly has its share of fine-tuning to do, but has shown a fight that might carry the team to its first Ivy League title in nine years.
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