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Ivy League Notebook

February 20, 2008 Conference Notes No Comments

Ivy League Notebook

by Phil Kasiecki

As another weekend of Ivy League basketball has completed, there hasn’t been much change at the top. With two more road wins, Cornell has run their record to 8-0 and remains two games in front of Brown.

The Big Red could move even closer to clinching the Ivy League’s automatic bid this coming weekend, when the Bears and Yale come to town. A sweep would put them at 10-0 with a possible magic number of two, and they would have the tie-breaker of a head-to-head sweep over the Bears.

Revenge of the Road Teams

After the home team won all eight games last weekend, this time around saw a decided reversal as seven of the eight games were won by the visiting team. Additionally, only three games were decided by double figures.

Cornell and Columbia were the only two teams to win a road game in the league before this weekend. Both teams swept their road games, while Brown swept theirs and Yale split their two games for their first road wins.

Will it continue next weekend? That’s a good question. The previous weekend, the top teams in the league were at home, while they were on the road this weekend. Cornell and Columbia are at home and host Brown and Yale, meaning things at the top of the standings might sort themselves out a little more.

Dale Continues to Lead Improving Cornell

Last year, when Cornell looked every bit the part of a young team, Louis Dale was at the nerve center of it. The sophomore point guard made a lot of things happen, but not just for his team as he was erratic at times. He was the type of player who could make big plays but also commit a big turnover or take a bad shot.

As Cornell stands atop the league with an 8-0 mark, Dale is leading the team again, but this time with better results. He feels more comfortable running the team, as evidenced by his much-improved assist/turnover ratio, and limiting turnovers was one area he really tried to improve on this time around. While his shooting numbers are down, the wins are up and that’s what matters most.

In improving in the win-loss category, the Big Red have gone from being hunters to the hunted. That’s a transition not easily made, and Friday’s win at Harvard, where they came from being five down in the final minute, probably helps them see what is needed in that.

“I think this keeps us grounded, knowing that every team is going to be ready to play,” said Dale. “We have to come out with our A-game as well. It’s going to help us focus more on games and be ready to play every time out.”

His coach sees his potential and knows that Dale still has work to do. But that’s a two-way street in terms of his expectations.

“I’m disappointed a lot of the times when Louis makes a mistake because I expect him to be great,” said head coach Steve Donohue. “I just think he’s such a talented kid that it frustrates me when he goes through stretches. I’ve got to remember he’s playing his 22nd Ivy League game, that’s all. He’s only a sophomore and he’ll make mistakes.”

Dale and classmate Ryan Wittman certainly make mistakes, but they’ve been playing through them better this time around. They had to play through them last year, and as sophomores they look like players who have grown. The Big Red is following suit.

Difficult Homecoming for Crimson

After five straight on the road, Harvard finally returned home this weekend hoping to get back on track. One might say they came agonizingly close to doing just that.

A year ago, the Crimson handed Cornell a tough loss late in the season at Lavietes Pavilion. This time around, the fortunes were reversed as Cornell handed them a heart-breaking 72-71 loss on Friday night.

The Crimson looked to be in good shape when Jeremy Lin (15 points, 4 steals) hit a three-pointer from the top of the key with 42 seconds left to put them up by five. But the Big Red capitalized on two Crimson turnovers to get two late baskets by Alex Tyler after he made a stickback on the ensuing possession.

“It’s really disappointing for us, because we played so well and so hard against the first place team, one of the hottest teams in the country,” said Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker. “I thought we just really performed in a lot of good ways to put ourselves in a position to win.”

On Saturday night, the Crimson shot just over 30 percent in the second half en route to dropping a 73-64 decision to Columbia. The Crimson were in the game all night long, even leading by nine with over 15 minutes to go in the game. That was a sign that there wasn’t a big hangover from the loss the night before.

“I thought we responded beautifully in a lot of ways,” said Amaker. “I think it showed a lot of toughness, a lot of guts, a lot of character, for our team the way we came out after that gut-wrenching loss last night.”

A real bright spot for the Crimson this weekend was the play of Drew Housman. The junior guard, known for his scoring, had not reached double figures in the last eight games before the weekend, but he came alive in these two games. He scored 18 points on Friday night, then went for 25 points on 8-15 shooting on Saturday night with no turnovers. In those two games, he went 15-15 from the foul line.

“You can’t ask for anything more out of him,” said Amaker, who was also struck by the lack of turnovers. “I’m barking at him to pressure the ball more.”

The Crimson are home again this coming weekend against Princeton and Penn.

Lions Persevere to Contend

It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for Columbia. With Joe Jones’ first recruiting class now in their senior seasons, this looked to be their year, especially with the development last season of Patrick Foley and Niko Scott as freshmen. While it’s been far from a washout and there’s plenty of time left, the season hasn’t quite gone as scripted.

Non-league play saw the team battle some inconsistency, and then Foley suffered a season-ending shoulder injury while diving for a loose ball against Stony Brook. He tried to come back and played in three more games, but he’s now done for the season. That robs them of their most talented scorer.

As we pass the halfway point of Ivy League play, the Lions are 5-3 and in third place, a half game ahead of Penn, who they knocked off at Levien Gym last weekend. Jones gives a lot of the credit to his senior class for the team reaching this point.

“We have great leadership from our seniors. They’ve been through the years, they’ve been through a lot,” said Jones. “These guys have persevered and helped carry us through that rough patch. Now we’ve kind of found ourselves and we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. I think they know they’re capable of winning any game that they’re in now.”

Perhaps the best example of that is forward Ben Nwachukwu, a player who’s always had the talent to be an All-Ivy player. His numbers this season are down as he’s been inconsistent, scoring in double figures just once in league games prior to Saturday night. At Brown, he didn’t even take a shot in 12 minutes of play.

“We’ve got a get a little more consistency out of him,” Jones said of the senior post player. “When he’s playing well like that and John (Baumann) is playing well, we’re tough to beat, and it opens up things for other guys. We’ve got to get Ben playing at a more consistent level.”

But it’s certainly more than Nwachukwu, who had 16 points and three blocked shots on Saturday. Baumann missed a good portion of his freshman season with an injury, while senior Justin Armstrong has been plagued by injuries for most of his career. They saw Joe Bova come in as a freshman two years ago and suffer a serious back injury that left questions about whether or not he would ever play again. There has been some disappointment as well with some tough losses over the last few years.

Now, as their careers draw to a close, the seniors are trying to make it a good ending.

“They persevered, they persisted through the tough times, they’ve stuck together,” said Jones. “It’s not a group that complains a lot.”

The Lions play the next four games at home. They ride a four-game winning streak into the homestand, so they have a chance to run up a good winning streak before they hit the road for the final weekend of the season.

Other Notes

  • Cornell head coach Steve Donohue was quick to note why he thinks Harvard’s record in Ivy League play is deceiving. After their win on Friday, he offered, “Our league sticks them on the road for five straight games, no league in the country does that.” The Crimson had just returned home this weekend after that stretch, losing all five games.
  • Penn got back Tyler Bernardini from an injury that kept him out of three games. He’s their most talented player and made an immediate impact offensively as the Quakers split two games with a win over Yale on Saturday night. In Saturday’s win, he scored all 19 of his points in the second half.
  • A bad second half did in Yale in that game, stopping their three-game winning streak. They allowed Penn to shoot 52 percent from the field in the latter stanza, highlighted by a 17-0 run that broke a 39-39 tie and sealed the game.


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