Ivy Madness Recap: Cornell’s Missed Chance Doesn’t Mean No Hope
For the first time in school history, the Cornell University men’s basketball team qualified for Ivy Madness, the now-annual tournament held at the Palestra, home of the Penn Quakers. The tournament was established just last year and is the new method of determining who gets to represent the Ivy League in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Cornell has not reached the tournament since advancing to the Sweet Sixteen under current Penn head coach Steve Donahue in 2010, but could have clinched a 2018 bid with just two victories last weekend.
The road was not going to be easy for the Big Red, as the team was forced to take on the number one overall seed, the Harvard Crimson. Harvard, coached by the legendary Tommy Amaker, was coming off a 12-2 Ivy League season despite losing one of its best all-around scorers in Bryce Aiken early in the year. Harvard’s team was carried by its tremendous 2016 recruiting class, led by 2018 Ivy League Player of the Year, Seth Towns, and 2018 All-Ivy First Team member Chris Lewis.
Cornell fared quite well in its previous matchups with the Crimson, suffering just a three-point defeat at Newman Arena and a double overtime loss in Cambridge. On Saturday, Cornell got off to a promising start by using three-pointers at the hands of Jack Gordon, Joel Davis, and Matt Morgan to take a 28-21 lead late in the first half. On defense, Cornell was running a great full-court press, forcing turnovers, and keeping Harvard in check from behind the three-point arc. Luck suddenly seemed to change after two turnovers and a miss on the front end of a one-and-one. Harvard’s Christian Juzang hit two threes to put the Crimson up 34-30 towards the end of the half before Stone Gettings answered with a pair of free throws to cut the lead to two with just 1.8 seconds remaining in the half.
Looking to go into the half with just a two-point deficit, Cornell saw a key missed call change the momentum of the game. With just 1.8 seconds left, Harvard center Robert Baker threw a three-quarters court inbounds that was tipped up by Jack Gordon right to Harvard’s Christian Juzang just inside of half court. On the play, Gordon was seemingly shoved from behind by Chris Lewis, but the referee whistles stayed silent. The play drew up instant rage from Cornell players and coaches looking for a blatant foul.
In the second half, Cornell kept the game close to start, as a Matt Morgan three cut the lead to just two. After another Juzang three, a clear goaltending violation on a Stone Gettings layup was not called, erasing a potential two points from Cornell. From there, the Big Red offense went cold and Harvard went on a 14-0 run to blow the game wide open. Seniors Kyle Brown and Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof made their final career appearances for the Big Red at the end of the game, but the Big Red fell with a final score of 74-55.
Cornell’s loss should not stand in the way of its successful season. The six Ivy League wins are the most for the Big Red since the 2011-12 season, and junior Matt Morgan became the first Cornell player to receive First-Team All-Ivy recognition since Chris Wroblewski in 2012.
Seniors Kyle Brown, Wil Bathust, Pat Smith and Jordan Abdur-Ra’off are all set to graduate this May, but Cornell’s young group of freshmen will be ready to step up and provide key depth. The Big Red are also set to get guard Troy Whiteside back from injury for next season. Whiteside started 23 games in the 2015-16 season, averaging 6.6 points per game in those contests. The Big Red have also added incoming transfer Chaz Mack, a forward from Cochise College in Arizona, who averaged 19.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game on terrific shooting from the field and three-point range. Head Coach Brian Earl will certainly have the makings of a potential Ivy League champion team in 2019.