ITHACA - Cornell is a terrible basketball team.
The Big Red entered Saturday’s game with 2 wins in 26 games on the season, including just one against a Division I opponent. Saturday night, the Big Red did everything they could to get blown out early and often against the Quakers. Cornell chucked any open three it could take, choosing to throw up hopelessly wild shots on off-kilter floaters in the lane and flirting with shot clock violations all night long.
The Big Red couldn’t give the game away, though, because the Quakers wouldn’t take it. A night after Princeton came into Newman Arena and blew out Cornell by 40 points, Penn won by just four, seeing every mistake the Big Red made and raising it another.
In one of the ugliest sequences in a basketball game that you’ll ever see, the Big Red committed an inexplicable shot clock violation with 3.2 seconds left in the first half. Penn followed that blunder up with an even more inexplicable five-second violation of its own, giving the ball back to Cornell. Then Big Red guard Nolan Cressler subsequently nailed a three-pointer to end the half, and Penn had allowed Cornell to erase a half-ending turnover with a momentum-shifting trey.
The bottom line? Saturday night marked one of the ugliest Ivy basketball games in a long, long time. Penn committed 17 turnovers, seven more than Cornell, the team with the worst win-loss record in Division I this year.
“Things like that, we didn’t control them all season long,” Penn coach Jerome Allen said about turnovers that Penn committed in the second half at Cornell. “It’s just frustrating when you just give opportunities to score the ball away.”
What’s more frustrating is that the only thing that saved the Quakers from suffering perhaps their most embarrassing loss in modern times was senior captain Dau Jok’s lights-out performance from beyond the arc. Jok went 6-for-10 from three-point range, with most of those treys crucially countering Big Red offensive rallies at the other end of the floor.
It shouldn’t take a rare explosive offensive effort from beyond the arc to eke your way past the worst team in the country. It just shouldn’t. Sometimes a win still feels like a loss.
A Penn loss to Cornell Saturday night would have been the program’s worst loss in recent memory, with the exception of Penn’s shocking 60-30 loss at Florida Gulf Coast in Dec. 2007 that foreshadowed the difficult times ahead for the program.
That Penn avoided such a historically bad loss is a credit to the team’s seniors, who stepped up down the stretch Saturday night. Jok’s 21 points paced the Quakers but fellow senior captains Miles Jackson-Cartwright and Fran Dougherty chipped in 15 and 14 points respectively, ensuring the program’s first Ivy road win in a calendar year.
But those seniors are about to be gone forever, and the chief offensive threats they leave behind are sophomores Tony Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry, who have dealt with obvious temper and conditioning issues respectively during the Ivy stretch run. In other words, this Penn program that struggled mightily twice this season to beat the worst team in the nation seems poised to take still another step backwards if the status quo remains.
And the status quo is ugly, undisciplined basketball from a broken program.