ATB: Cornell Loses Its Way in the Phog…

Posted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2010

The (Big) Red Scare. #1 Kansas 71, Cornell 66.  Normally, an early January game between a top-ranked Kansas squad and…well, pretty much any Ivy League school sounds about as thrilling as getting the measles twice.  Tonight was different.  Cornell came into Kansas’ dreaded Allen Fieldhouse already with a few wins over big-conference teams like Alabama, Massachusetts, and St. John’s.  They were riding the momentum of a ten-game winning streak and could boast a kid in Ryan Wittman who is nothing close to a kept secret any more.  Wittman (24/4/3 assts), a 6’6 long-range bomber averaging 19 PPG and 44% from distance, had appeared on various “best outside shooters” lists (including ours) and already had people wondering if Cornell was actually good enough to get in as an at-large team this year.  But this is no ordinary place or opponent.  This is Kansas, and this is Allen Fieldhouse, they of the 50-game home winning streak and current #1-ranking that, to be honest, hasn’t really been challenged yet.  It was close from the start; neither team led by more than three in the first half, and Cornell actually led at the break by that margin.  You still had the feeling, though, that this was one of those games in which Kansas would come out in the second half and end it early.  We’ve all seen this game before, right?  A team hangs around for a half by playing the best 20 minutes of basketball they’ve ever played, like Mike McD thinking he’s going to complete his run on Teddy KGB’s place.  We all know it’s a matter of time until Kansas turns over the two aces and sends whatever upstart they’re facing back to law school, a bratty Gretchen Mol, and Joey Knish’s delivery truck, right?  But when Cornell jumped on the Jayhawks to start the second half and extended their lead to eight, panic began to take root.  With Kansas up 53-47 with 9:45 left, the calls, texts, and more frequent network updates started.  When Kansas had still failed to reclaim the lead with under five minutes left, it was on.  Upset alert.  #1 is in trouble.  And it’s an Ivy League team. I mean, come on — ESPN even broke off of a DUKE GAME to provide bonus coverage!  Kansas, elevated by the home crowd, would eventually break free from Cornell’s expert control of the pace and take a 61-60 lead with 4:03 left, and you got the feeling that Cornell was done.  They would actually take the lead once more at 64-63 with less than a minute left, but Sherron Collins decided it was time to take over.  Handling the ball almost exclusively for Kansas, Collins (33/4/3) scored his team’s last eight points and four out of five FTs down the stretch.  Give Cornell credit for going for the kill, though.  Down 66-64, they found Wittman off a screen with 29 seconds left and he was never thinking about a two.  He would miss that three, and a later one to tie, and Kansas would eventually prevail.  This was probably the worst thing that could happen to the rest of the Big 12, since now Kansas has learned (if they weren’t aware before) not to take their position for granted, and they know there’s no such thing as a night off.  Coaches secretly love these close games early in the season because it empowers and tempers your squad, making them tougher for eventual tournament games.  As for Cornell…if the committee still considers “quality losses,” it doesn’t get much more quality than this one — to #1 Kansas, in their house, a 50-game home win streak on the line.  The Big Red will probably gain Top 25 votes from this, and it should actually help their curb appeal.  So, hands up, who wants to see Cornell opposite them as a first round opponent on Selection Sunday??  Yeah, we thought not.

Evan Turner Triumphantly ReturnsOhio State 79, Indiana 54.  OSU wasn’t going to lose this game at home regardless of whether Turner played or not, but his presence on the court was apparent in terms of inspiring confidence in his teammates and his ability to share the ball.  He played twenty minutes, contributed 8/4/5 assts while committing three fouls, but most importantly, he didn’t really appear rusty out there other than the first few sets.  The only thing that kept him from playing more than half the game was early foul trouble, but the most important takeaway from this blowout game was that it was obvious to anyone who has watched the Buckeyes play without Turner that everyone else appeared comfortable again.  Jon Diebler in particular was the primary beneficiary, as he had a 21/3 assts/3 stls night on 5-8 from three without having to worry about running the offense (along with William Buford) nearly as much.  Turner said afterwards that the eight-week prognosis originally suggested by OSU officials was a bit of a hedge, and he was only out of commission for 4.5 weeks, but all that matters now is that Turner is back in the lineup and OSU should be back in contention for the Big Ten title and the Top 25 in short order.

Unreal Score of the NightSeattle 99, Oregon State 48.  Right now Craig Robinson’s numbers are looking even worse than his brother-in-law’s, as Seattle — barely a D1 school, as a brand-new Independent — came into Corvallis and obliterated the Beavers in their own building.  A 58-21 second half is simply unconscionable for a Pac-10 team playing at home against a mid-major of any kind.  Seriously, even Gonzaga with Adam Morrison, Dan Dickau and Austin Daye all starting shouldn’t be able to do what the Redhawks did to Oregon State tonight.  Cameron Dollar should be proud of his team with road wins over Utah and OSU this season already, and circle 1/26 on your calendar as Seattle will visit crosstown rival Washington for another program-making shot at glory.  

Triple-Double Much? Baylor 79, Morgan State 63. The nation’s most unknown player might just be Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh, a 6’10 forward/center who is averaging 14/11/4 blks so far this season.  Tonight he outdid himself, dropping 18/17/10 blks/3 assts in a ridiculous performance at home against Morgan State.  He was only one block away from a trip-dub against UT-Arlington two weeks ago and we wonder just how much John Beilein still wishes he had the transfer around in Ann Arbor this season to go with Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims.  Udoh is one of the reasons that Baylor is sitting at 12-1 with its sole loss a 3-point decision versus Alabama in the first round of the Old Spice Classic six weeks ago.  The Big 12 is pretty loaded this year, but Baylor is a definite team to watch as a spoiler just outside the top tier of Kansas & Texas.

RTC Live. We were at three different venues tonight, and all three games went down to the wire.

  • UCLA 76, California 75.  It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.  Not this year, at least.  UCLA was the swooning team that couldn’t beat anybody and Cal was the team that appeared to be the class of the conference.  But a poor shooting night by Jerome Randle (5-16 FG; 1-8 3FG) and hot three-point shooting in the second half by UCLA allowed Ben Howland’s team to get their biggest win of the season and move to 2-1 in the Pac-10.  It was Michael Roll (19/5) playing the role (har har) of unlikely hero who saved the day in overtime by picking up a loose ball on the right side of the foul line and dropping a 16-footer to give UCLA the lead with 1.8 seconds left.  Cal’s final play looked to be set up for Randle to get a long three attempt at the buzzer, but instead Jamal Boykin received the pass and missed badly from about thirty-five feet.  Is this the start of a Pac-10 run by UCLA?  There were signs.  Jerime Anderson didn’t start, but he contributed 11/4 in mostly heady play running the offense.  Nikola Dragovic (18/3/4 assts) caught fire from deep, and even Reeves Nelson (15/4) showed up to play.  But most importantly, it was UCLA’s defense that held the usually-efficient Bears to a horrible 2-20 shooting night from three, easily their worst performance of the season.  If the Bruins can get a win at Stanford over the weekend, they would then return home for two weeks and three games versus USC and the Washingtons.  In the crazy and mediocre Pac-10, it wouldn’t be shocking to see UCLA sitting at 5-2 or thereabouts after that stretch.  As for Cal, it was their sixth loss in a row to UCLA in Berkeley, but this one has to sting a little more than the others given just how far down UCLA is this year.  There were signs of panic and poor decision-making down the stretch of this one, as if the Bear players foolishly thought one really good play would finish off the game.  That’s certainly not what Mike Montgomery teaches, so they’ll have to regroup and figure out why they kept firing threes when driving the lane was clearly the best strategy tonight.  It’s almost as if they couldn’t believe UCLA was still hanging in the game with them.
  • Marquette 62, #12 Georgetown 59.  Marquette and coach Buzz Williams have been on the wrong side of way too many close games in the first two months of the season. Tonight, the Golden Eagles were finally fortunate enough to notch a nail-biter in the win column with a 62-59 triumph over the 12th-ranked Georgetown Hoyas. Coming off two heartbreaking defeats at the hands of top-ten ranked West Virginia by 1 and Villanova by 2, a handful of key rebounds from senior leader Lazar Hayward, clutch free throws from Jimmy Butler and the lights-out three-point bombings of David Cubillan were enough to edge an 11-1 Hoya team considered a big-time threat in the Big East. Even though Georgetown’s clear height advantage led to numerous dunks and layups from center Julian Vaughn, Marquette was able to minimize the damage by out-rebounding taller Georgetown and limiting all-Big East candidate Greg Monroe to just nine points by doubling Monroe and constantly keeping him off balance. It was the defensive work and tenacity on the glass from Hayward, despite a rough shooting night (4-16), that keyed vital Marquette stops near the end. But most of all it was the three-point display from the point guard Cubillan (6-6 3pt) that broke the Hoyas’ backs. Austin Freeman had a nice overall floor game for Georgetown, leading the way with 20 points on 6/13 FG, three rebounds and six assists. Marquette now improves to the best 10-5 team in the country and get another stiff test at Villanova on Saturday while 11-2 Georgetown returns home to face #13 Connecticut.
  • Stanford 54, USC 53.  Stanford turned the tables on USC Wednesday night, using tight defense against offensive sparkplug Mike Gerrity to throttle the Trojans and eke out a 54-53 win. USC’s Leonard Washington tied the game with a rare three-point shot with less than a minute remaining, then fouled light-scoring Stanford guard Jarrett Mann. Mann made one free throw to put Stanford on top with 10.6 seconds left, and Gerrity raced upcourt to attempt a game-winner. His shot missed, as did two attempted put-backs, giving Stanford the win. Gerrity, who led USC during an eight-game winning streak, made only one three-point basket on the night, finishing with three points.

Other Games of National Interest.

  • #5 Duke 86, Iowa State 65. Jon Scheyer had himself a little homecoming tonight (he’s from Northbrook, one of Chicago’s north ‘burbs) and made the most of it, scoring 31/3/4 assts in a pretty easy Blue Devil victory in a game played at the United Center.  Duke never trailed and even though they led by a modest eight points at halftime, it was never closer than that the rest of the way.  Nolan Smith (20/4) and Kyle Singler (15/8/4) were both solid for Duke, while the Cyclones’ Craig Brackins was frustrated into just 12 points on 4-10 shooting.  Further evidence to the Duke pressure: the 3-point shooting stats.  Duke was 9-21 (42.9%) while ISU could only manage 2-9 (22.2%).
  • #6 Villanova 99, DePaul 72. Lights out early in this one.  Villanova hit 14 of their first 19 shots including six of eight threes.  Ballgame.  Villanova was up 49-24 at the half.  True, they were playing DePaul, but this ‘Nova squad doesn’t look like they’ve lost a step from last year.  Scottie Reynolds led them with 21 points but excellent floor games were also turned in by Corey Fisher (15/4/6) and the highly underrated Reggie Redding (10/4/7/3 stls).
  • #7 Syracuse 74, Memphis 57. The Syracuse radio guys had a great observation in this one about seven minutes into the second half when Jim Boeheim decided to remove his suit jacket out of frustration after an Andy Rautins turnover, proclaiming after a few moments, “What we are seeing are the most consecutive jacketless minutes Boeheim has ever coached.”  Must have worked, since from that point on it was 34-18 in favor of the Orange.  The ‘Cuse put five guys in double-figures, led by Wesley Johnson’s 19/7 but you have to give props to Kris Joseph coming off the bench, contributing a big 15/9.
  • #8 West Virginia 86, Rutgers 52. Two numbers leap off the Mountaineer side of the stat sheet from this one: 18 assists, six turnovers.  West Virginia definitely found their bearing in their first game after the loss to Purdue, winning each half by 17 points.  Defensively, they smothered Rutgers in the second half to the degree that the Knights could only muster three free throws for the first 7:13 of the second half until Mike Rosario hit a layup to ut the WVU lead to 30.  Looks like the Mountaineers have learned early on that when you take care of the ball, are unselfish with it, and play good defense, the scoring chances tend to follow.
  • #11 Michigan State 54, #20 Wisconsin 47.  We’re really glad we didn’t have to actually force ourselves to watch this exercise in fugliness tonight.  When Izzo and Bo Ryan meet, it’s almost as if they challenge each other to see who can gom up the game more.  Tonight, it was Ryan’s team that generally stunk up the place with its putrid shooting (33%), but to be honest, MSU was only marginally better (38%).  The Badgers, though, threw up 23 threes, only five of which found its mark, while the Spartans seemed content on driving the lane and getting fouled (20-30 from the line).  MSU’s was the winning strategy, and Chris Allen had 16/6 in the process.  We can’t wait until the next game between these two in Madison on Groundhog Day.
  • #13 Connecticut 71, Seton Hall 63.  Seton Hall is starting to look like a team that is more a collection of talented pieces than as a whole.  Some of their four-game losing streak is due to playing good teams, but some of it is clearly because they haven’t quite figured it all out just yet.  Especially the very important concept behind shot selection.  UConn’s Jerome Dyson was one rebound shy of a trip-dub (16/9/10 assts), and the Huskies rode thirteen blocked shots to a great defensive performance, holding the Hall to 36% from the field and 3-16 from three.  It seems like it was Jeremy Hazell missing most of those shots, as the Human Cannon (Northeastern Edition) was 5-20 from the field, but he had plenty of help (Keon Lawrence was 2-11 and Herb Pope was 5-13) with the brickfest.
  • #15 Tennessee 88, Charlotte 71.  Six scholarship players?  No problem.  Tennessee did exactly what a team in their situation needs to do, and that’s get out to a nice early lead and get comfortable.  After being down 14-11, the Vols went on a 14-0 run that put some early distance between them and a tough 10-4 Charlotte squad.  They went in at halftime up 51-29, and coasted from that point.  All five UT starters had double-figures, led by Wayne Chism’s stat-sheet-spanking night: 18 pts, 5 rebs, 6 asst, 5 stls, 3 blocks (and one techincal!).
  • #22 BYU 77, UNLV 73. BYU moved to 15-1 with a strong home win tonight over the Runnin’ Rebels in both teams’ Mountain West opener.  BYU played its star Jimmer Fredette despite his having strep throat and an allergic reaction to the medication which clearly affected his performance in this game (7 pts on 2-10 shooting).  But the good news for the Cougars is that Jonathan Tavernari, who has seemingly been in a season-long slump, stepped off the bench to contribute 17/9/3 assts to help get the win.  Maybe he just needed to feel needed.  Tre’Von Willis had 24/6/4 assts for UNLV in the losing effort.
  • #25 Temple 73, Saint Joseph’s 46 Even Fran Dunphy has to crack a whip every now and then.  Junior forward Lavoy Allen was ten minutes late to a team meeting yesterday, and after crediting him two minutes, Dunphy sat Allen — usually a starter — for the first eight minutes of the game.  Lesson learned, we’d say.  Allen responded by coming off the pine, hitting 8-15 from the field plus all four of his free throws, and pulling down 11 boards to finish with 20/11/3 blks.  As a squad, Temple got their defensive groove back, holding the Hawks to 17-54 shooting (31.5%) and 5-18 (27.8%) from behind the three-point arc.
  • Northern Iowa 61, Southern Illinois 49. UNI served notice to the rest of the Missouri Valley that they are the team to beat this year in the conference race.  Despite an off shooting night (38%), the Panther defense was spectacular enough to keep SIU even lower (34%) as the home team didn’t even break thirty points until around the eight-minute mark.  UNI moves to 4-0 in the Valley with two of their tougher road trips already behind them.  Jordan Eglseder had 17/14 for the Panthers.
  • Wichita State 65, Missouri State 62. The Shockers went into Springfield and jumped all over the home Bears in the first half, building a 25-pt lead with 18 minutes remaining in the game, but had to hold off a furious rally 31-8 run to get the key MVC road win tonight.  Wichita and Northern Iowa appear to be the best two teams in the Valley this year.
  • Louisville 92, Providence 70.  Rick Pitino returned to his old stomping grounds and laid the wood to the Friars, using a 55-28 second half to blow open a close game at the half and ensure that the Cardinals moved to 2-0 in the Big East.  Edgar Sosa had his best game of the year, with 26/5/4 assts on 9-15 shooting (including five threes).  Samardo Samuels was also strong, with a 17/9 night.  But Pitino had to be most pleased with UL’s dominance on the glass, as his team more than doubled up Providence in that area, 43-19.
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