Cornell experiences dominating victory
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Confident, relaxed and definitely on their game.
Cornell lived up to its billing as the best team to come out of the Ivy League in more than a decade, and now the senior-heavy Big Red have a chance for a nice run in the East Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
“Everyone was saying we were Cinderella or it’s an upset. Not us,’’ sophomore Chris Wroblewski said yesterday after the 12th-seeded Big Red dominated No. 5 seed Temple, 78-65, in a game that wasn’t even that close.
Down to their last chance to experience success on college basketball’s biggest stage, seniors Ryan Wittman, Louis Dale, and Jeff Foote paced the school to its first win in five NCAA appearances.
Dale scored 21 points and Wittman, the Ivy League player of the year, had 20 for the Big Red. Cornell led the nation in 3-point shooting this season and have three other elements — strong guard play, experienced leadership, and a 7-foot center in Foote — that make them a threat to play beyond the tournament’s first weekend.
Cornell (28-4) made eight of its first 10 shots and never looked back, shooting 68 percent in the opening half and 56 percent for the game.
Temple (29-6) lost in the first round for the third straight year under coach Fran Dunphy, whose former assistant, Steve Donahue, has led Cornell to three straight Ivy titles and the winningest season in school history.
Juan Fernandez and Ryan Brooks each had 14 points for Temple.
Having gone through a nonconference schedule that included games against Kansas, Syracuse, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and Alabama, Donahue felt the Big Red was better equipped this year to face a tough, physical opening-round opponent such as Temple, one of the nation’s stingiest defensive teams.
Cornell lost by 24 to Stanford in 2008 and 19 to Missouri a year ago, and entered this year’s tournament determined to make the most of the last opportunity Wittman, Foote, Dale, and fellow senior Jon Jaques have to enjoy the NCAA Tournament.
Dunphy, who’s been at Temple since 2006, fell to 1-12 in the NCAA Tournament and has lost 11 straight.
The Owls coach appeared in the tournament nine times in 17 seasons at Penn, where Donahue was an assistant under him for 10 years. They remain close, and the mentor freely admitted he did not relish the idea of facing the pupil.
“I’m torn right now with the feeling in my stomach,’’ Donahue said after his first win over his former boss.
Temple trailed, 37-29, at the half and was fortunate to be that close. The Owls uncharacteristically turned the ball over nine times, with Cornell coming up with seven steals while playing tight man-to-man defense and occasionally switching to a 1-3-1 zone that made it difficult to get the ball inside.
Cornell’s lead would have been bigger if its 3-point shooters hadn’t struggled. The Big Red were 13 of 19 from the field at the break, and five of those six misses were 3-pointers.
After misfiring on its first two 3-point attempts of the second half, Cornell’s shooters caught fire. Jaques hit a long 3, then Wittman made three straight during a stretch in which the Big Red weathered another Temple surge to lead, 51-42. The closest Temple would get the rest of the way was 7.
Cornell, which has won 16 of 17 games since a 5-point road loss at Kansas on Jan. 6, became the first Ivy League team to win an NCAA Tournament game since fifth-seeded Princeton took down No. 12 seed UNLV in 1998.