Familiar Woes Plague Crimson in Weekend Sweep

Cornell seals first NCAA tournament bid since 1987-88 season with rout of Harvard

Hillary W. Berkowitz

After nearly derailing the Big Red’s Ivy title efforts two weeks ago, co-captain Brad Unger, shown here in earlier action, saw his squad get blown out by Cornell, who punched its ticket to the NCAA tournament with the win.

ITHACA, N.Y.—For the first time since the 1987-88 season and just the third time in its history, Cornell is headed to the Big Dance.

With its 86-53 victory over the Harvard men’s basketball team (8-20, 3-9 Ivy) in front of a raucous crowd of 4,473 at Newman Arena on Saturday night, the Big Red (20-5, 12-0 Ivy) clinched the outright Ivy League title and became the first team in the nation to officially be headed to the NCAA Tournament.

With the score tied 11-11 in the first half, Cornell outscored Harvard 34-9 over the final 14:24 to take a 25-point lead, 45-20, into the locker room at the half, all but finishing the Crimson before it even had a chance.

“We really struggled to score,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said of the first half’s closing run. “We had great opportunities—we couldn’t finish some shots on the inside, we couldn’t make some open jump shots, and sometimes when we struggle to score it really affects our defense. It zaps the energy out of you on the other end and it’s a little bit easier for the opponent to score and they took advantage of it.”

Harvard shot an abysmal 7-for-31 (22.6 percent) from the floor in the first half, and it didn’t get much better, as the Crimson finished shooting just 15-for-62 (24.2 percent) in the game.

“Obviously, our inability to put the ball in the basket doomed us,” Amaker said.

On the other hand, virtually everything Cornell put up found the hoop. The Big Red made 19-of-29 (65.5 percent) field goals in the first half—four more buckets than Harvard made the entire game.

“They’re tough to stop, I give them a lot of credit—they have a lot of weapons,” junior guard Andrew Pusar said. “Certainly they do a good job of moving the ball fast to get their shooters open, and unfortunately there [were] a couple situations where we didn’t communicate well enough and they were able to get some looks at the basket and put it down.”

While Cornell put the first two points on the board, the Crimson used an early 9-2 run to jump out to a 9-4 lead just four minutes into the game.

The Big Red fought back to get even at 11, then it used several small spurts to push ahead. In the midst of an 8-0 run, Cornell set off the crowd by scoring four points in just nine seconds. A right-handed hook in the lane by Big Red center Jeff Foote was immediately followed by a Cornell steal on Harvard’s inbounds pass and a layup by guard Geoff Reeves to take a 15-11 lead.

The Big Red then used the momentum from that stretch to really pull out in front. The Crimson got within four at 17-13, but another 7-0 run pushed the lead to 11. An Unger three-pointer made it 24-16, but Cornell notched seven more unanswered points to open up a 15-point advantage.

And that wasn’t even the real onslaught.

Leading 34-18, Big Red guard Ryan Wittman, who finished with 13 points, hit back-to-back three pointers. As if the crowd wasn’t excited enough, the barrage continued, as guard Adam Gore faked a three-point attempt from the top-left, getting Crimson sophomore guard Dan McGeary to bite. Gore, who finished with a game-high 14 points, calmly steadied himself and sunk the now wide open three-pointer. The sold-out crowd—led by the deafening student section—went wild.

“They’ve certainly done a good job getting a pretty good atmosphere—it was rocking all night,” Pusar said. “They were out here a good 45 minutes while we were warming up already, making chants, getting on people, and certainly as you saw at the end with them rushing the court. I thought it was a lot of fun, I mean it’s good for them, it’s good for the league—we certainly love playing in it.”

The second half, with the outcome all but in the books, was a back-and-forth battle. The Crimson never seriously chipped into the Cornell lead—the closest it would get was 68-44 with 6:35 to play on a McGeary triple.

“I guess we just got to keep in mind that some nights are going to be like that,” Pusar said. “I know there were certainly a lot of open looks that we couldn’t convert—those will certainly fall eventually.”

Captain Brad Unger was the only Harvard player to record double digits, notching 10 points. Junior forward Evan Harris, Pusar, and McGeary each had nine points.

“I’d like to say congratulations to Cornell,” Amaker said following the game. “They earned it, they deserved it, they’ve had a phenomenal year. Obviously there is another weekend to play, but they are going to represent our conference and us in the NCAA Tournament, and we wish them nothing but the best.”

—Staff writer Kevin C. Reyes can be reached at kreyes@fas.harvard.edu.