Cornell tops Wisconsin to reach Sweet 16
Cornell players jumped up and down near midcourt, exchanging chest-bumps and high-fives, then ran toward their fans.
And stood around.
Forgive those Ivy League guys for not knowing how to celebrate. After all, they’ve never experienced anything like this before. Then again, maybe they’re waiting for something bigger and better.
Either way, the Big Red made a big statement on college basketball’s biggest stage. They might have something for Big Blue!
Louis Dale scored 26 points, Ryan Wittman added 24 and No. 12 seed Cornell upset the fourth-seeded Badgers 87-69 on Sunday, becoming the first Ivy League school in more than 30 years to advance to the round of 16.
"You can’t sleep on us,” Dale said.
Nope, just ask the Badgers and Temple.
The Big Red (29-4) will play top-seeded Kentucky in the East Regional semifinal Thursday in Syracuse, N.Y., about an hour from Cornell’s campus. It could be a tough ticket, though, since Kentucky’s basketball-crazed fans got a head start when their team advanced Saturday.
"Maybe all the Syracuse fans bought tickets and can help us out,” said Cornell coach Steve Donahue, whose team played close games on the road this season against fellow No. 1 seeds Kansas and Syracuse.
Cornell wasted little time taking care of its end.
The Big Red controlled things from the opening tip, picking apart Wisconsin’s vaunted defense the same way they did Temple in the opening round.
Cornell had a 12-point lead early, a 20-point lead late and very few moments of concern in between. The lopsided affair should make for some interesting conversation this week at the "Dog Pound,” the nickname given to the three-story, off-campus house that 13 players and a team manager call home.
"We’re definitely going to enjoy this one,” center Jeff Foote said. "But we’re not done yet.”
Cornell became the lowest seed to advance to the round of 16 in this year’s tournament and the first Ivy League team to get that far since Penn 31 years ago.
Wisconsin (24-9), meanwhile, failed to get past the opening weekend for the fourth time in five years.
"The momentum and confidence they played with, we kind of ran into a buzz saw,” Keaton Nankivil said.
Jon Leuer led the Badgers with 23 points, including the team’s first 12. Jason Bohannon added 18, Ryan Evans chipped in 11 and Trevon Hughes finished with 10.
But Wisconsin’s problem was defense.
Cornell shot 61 percent from the field, 53 percent from 3-point range and dominated every aspect of the matchup. Anyone believe the Big Red were seeded correctly now?
"We want to take this ride as long as we can because after this it’s just nothing but babies and memories,” Dale said.
Foote had 12 points and seven rebounds. Chris Wroblewski added 12 points, and Jon Jaques finished with nine before fouling out.
Cornell couldn’t miss to start this one. The Big Red made their first five shots. Wittman hit consecutive jumpers to set the tone. Cornell led 16-4 with a little more than 5 minutes gone and never looked back.
"It’s always tough to end your season this way,” Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor said. "We thought we could go a little farther.”
Cornell could go a long way with its senior-laden team filled with castoffs and misfits.
Wittman, the star guard whose father coached the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves but couldn’t get his son a spot on the Gophers’ roster, ended up making 10 of 15 shots.
Dale, the dynamic point guard who grew up in Birmingham, Ala., but got very few scholarship offers, connected on 10 of 17 shots.
Foote, the 7-footer who once weighed 195 pounds and was recruited only by Division III schools until his mother, a nurse, met Cornell coaches in an emergency room, was perfect from the field. He also clamped down on Leuer in the second half.
"We have a bunch of guys with something to prove,” Dale said.
A win against the Wildcats, though, might give Cornell reason to really celebrate.
"We’ve played teams like Kentucky before,” Foote said. "We’re very experienced and very confident in ourselves.”