The stretch run of Friday night’s game at Lavietes Pavilion featured Cornell and Harvard’s stars doing what they do best. Matt Morgan pulled up for NBA-range three-pointers; Zena Edosomwan answered with ferocious dunks. But the biggest shot came from the least likely source: a three-pointer from Big Red center David Onourah.
The junior had only attempted one trey in his three-year career, a desperate heave at the end of last week’s game that clanked off the glass. But with two seconds on the shot clock and the Big Red inbounding from the baseline, options one through three were covered, leaving Onourah on the left wing as the only entry point. His awkward shot swished through the net, extending Cornell’s lead to five points in the final two minutes and paving the way for a 77-65 win.
“We just told David to get out of the way, basically. Nobody’s thinking he’s going to shoot a three,” Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. “It’s funny, because we practice that every day in shootaround, and that’s the exact spot he goes every day to shoot his threes.”
For the third straight game, Cornell (1-2 Ivy) was without star guard Robert Hatter due to an ankle injury. And for the third straight game, his share of the offense went to Morgan, a 6’3” rookie from North Carolina. On the heels of scoring 29 and 26 points in losses to Columbia, the rookie torched Harvard’s defense for 33.
In his first two Ivy games, Morgan needed a lot of shots to get his points — though they were still very valuable for a Big Red offense lacking other options without Hatter. But Friday was his most efficient game of the three, as he got his 33 points on 25 shooting possessions (adding three assists without a turnover).
“Even when Robert was healthy, in the Howard game, Matt was starting to show he was going to be very dangerous. Even with Robert having 27, Matt had  that game, so it was coming the whole time,” Courtney said. “He’s probably not going to be the focal point of our offense when Robert’s around, but the two of them together can be pretty good.”
Harvard (1-2 Ivy) led by as many as four points in the second half before the Big Red surged. But the Crimson would not have been in any position to lose if not for a brutal end to the first half.
With its hand forced by foul trouble, Cornell went to a super-small lineup featuring nobody taller than 6’4”. After the Big Red took the lead with a couple three-pointers, Harvard coach Tommy Amaker countered with a super-small lineup of his own, featuring Agunwa Okolie as the nominal center. But the Crimson remained out of sync offensively, while their defense struggled to protect the rim. All told, Cornell outscored Harvard 24-7 over the final seven minutes, taking a 15-point lead into halftime.
“We were trying to match their size, because we didn’t think our bigs could chase their smaller guys around,” Amaker said. “Obviously, what we tried didn’t work.”
With both teams back in their usual alignments, Harvard returned the favor early in the second half. The hosts regained the lead with a 16-0 run, earning 13 of those points in the paint. Most of the damage was done by Zena Edosomwan, who scored 24 points on 11-17 shooting with 10 rebounds.
Cornell kept the ball out of Edosomwan’s hands for much of the first half, but Harvard threaded pinpoint lob passes past fronting defenders in the second. That led to #omgivydunx — seven of them, none more impressive than the first:
“To be honest, when I jumped, I was like, ‘I’m gonna miss this, I think I’m too far away.’ Then I threw it in, and it kind of worked,” Edosomwan said of that dunk.
The Crimson looked ready to run away with the lead, especially when rookies Corey Johnson and Tommy McCarthy splashed three-pointers within 50 seconds. But with ace defender Okolie on the bench with four fouls, the Big Red was able to answer each time. Cornell went 10-27 from beyond the arc and committed only nine turnovers, finishing with 1.07 points per possession.
They were also helped by Harvard’s free-throw struggles. After shooting 6-20 in last week’s loss at Dartmouth, the Crimson improved all the way to 6-17. The plague even spread to their backcourt, as Okolie, Johnson and Patrick Steeves went a combined 3-10.
Cornell has risen to #202 in KenPom’s rankings, a remarkable jump for a team picked last in the preseason Ivy poll. The Big Red, who visit Dartmouth Saturday, will play six of their final eight games at home. Especially if Hatter returns at full strength, something like a 7-7 season — and postseason eligibility — is a serious possibility.
Harvard, meanwhile, had higher expectations, yet it finds itself in the same place at 1-2, its worst Ivy start since 2009. Perhaps more importantly, Columbia, Yale and Princeton are all still perfect, putting Harvard two games back in the standings for the first time since 2010 — also the last time it failed to win at least a share of the league title.