The Harvard students changed from white shirts to black shirts at halftime.
Too bad for the Crimson faithful the ploy didn’t transfer to the hardwood.
Cornell maintained a nine-point halftime lead into a nine-point road victory at a raucous Lavietes Pavilion Friday night to hold a lead atop the all-important Ivy League regular season standings and firmly re-establish their status as the top team in the conference. Despite a remarkable 32 of 34 from the line and 48% shooting from the Crimson, Cornell used trademark three-point shooting, strong rebounding and timely scoring from Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale to eek out a victory in quite possibly the most challenging game on their Ivy slate.
The matchup was billed as a duel between the two best players in the conference- Wittman and Harvard’s point man Jeremy Lin. Lin was his usual stellar self- 24 points, 7-12 FG and 10-11 FT- but it was Wittman who stole the show with an array of clutch NBA-distance treys that stymied multiple Crimson rallies. The most importance sequence of the game came near the midway point of the second half when Harvard cut a 17-point Cornell lead to five until Wittman and Dale answered the call one more time with consecutive dagger threes that killed any remaining Harvard hope.
Cornell coach Steve Donahue remarked after the game how terrific the atmosphere was in Cambridge tonight. One could sense the urgency in the air from both sides with the Ivy League not fielding a year-end conference tournament to decide the league’s auto berth. This puts a giant magnifying glass on the regular season results and the players, coaches, fans and students all realized tonight just how crucial of a contest this happened to be.
Donahue made sure to commend a young Harvard team on their effort. Lin is their leader and anchor, but the Crimson rely on three freshman- Kyle Casey, Christian Webster and Brandyn Curry– for a good chunk of their production. Donahue correctly pointed out how vital Cornell’s experience was tonight in terms of both poise and confidence. He singled out Wittman as someone that played with a toughness and confidence unmatched by any other player on the floor for both sides.
Wittman admitted after the game there was a “lack of urgency” before the stunning upset at Penn last Friday. He said the Big Red absolutely has to bring it every night in the Ivy League and Dale remarked that it feels good to get an opposing team’s best shot every time during league play, similar to Gonzaga in the WCC or Butler in the Horizon. Dale also singled out the importance of getting out to a lead so fighting back on the road was not a necessity.
On the losing end, Harvard coach Tommy Amaker was proud of his team for their commendable effort but the Crimson just could not contain Wittman and Dale to pick up the stops in clutch situations. He was straight to the point in his assessment: Cornell just did things better. Lin also made sure to say this was the best atmosphere he’s seen at a home game in his four years as a member of the Crimson.
Too bad the home team could not deliver for the white-then-black-clad fans screeching, whistling, blowing horns and stomping their feet for 40 solid minutes Friday night. Then again, this was Cornell. They are on a mission to reach the NCAA Tournament as the class of this league. And it does not appear anyone will stop them from achieving that very goal, at least on this night.
– Zach Hayes