After yet another of junior Johnathan Gray’s 3-pointers found the bottom of the net, a smile finally appeared on the guard’s face as he sprinted back on defense. It was his sixth basket from beyond the arc on the night, which helped the Red secure its 85-84 overtime upset win over No. 2 Yale Friday night.
Gray recorded a career high 29 points, shooting 10-of-18 from the field. He led both squads in scoring in what was a back and forth game between two teams fighting for a top spot in the Ivy League. The Red (10-12, 5-3 Ivy League) is now just one win behind the No. 2 Bulldogs (16-6, 6-2).
“I was just trying to be aggressive, and I got some baskets early that gave me confidence,” Gray said. “But [senior point guard Chris Wroblewski] did a great job of finding me at different spots on the court.”
Wroblewski supported Gray’s big game with a double-double of his own. Gray was the scorer for a large number of Wroblewski’s 10 assists throughout the game. Despite his solid shooting performance, Gray remained modest.
“I haven’t shot great because I was thinking too much early on in the season,” he said. “Now when I shoot I’m knowing the ball is going in.”
Despite eventually coming out on top, the Red did get off to a rocky start. Less than five minutes into the game, the squad found itself down by 10, and after Bulldog junior Austin Morgan knocked down a three, the Red trailed by 13. However, with Ivy League-leading scorer Greg Mangano on the bench in foul trouble, the Red was able to make a run of its own towards the end of the first half. Led by 3- pointers from Gray and freshman forward Shonn Miller, the Red went into the locker room trailing by only one point after junior forward Eitan Chemerinski connected on a layup at the buzzer.
A large part of the Red’s first half comeback was its relentless defense. The squad threw a full court press at the Bulldogs, forcing them to cough the ball up 15 times. Additionally, the defensive combination of Chemerinski and freshman forward Dave LaMore, who provided an important spark off the bench, kept Mangano struggling to score.
“Everybody helped out when the ball went in to him, all five guys were aware of where he was,” Gray said. “We had to do our best as a team trying to make him kick the ball out and take bad shots.”
Mangano got into foul trouble early in the game, because of Chemerinski and LaMore’s ability to box him out of the paint, and the Red was able to limit him to only 14 points and five boards.
In the second half, the two teams traded baskets, with the largest lead never surpassing six points. The Red’s full court trap continued to plague the Bulldogs, causing turnovers and easy baskets for the Red on the other end.
With 22 seconds left in regulation, Gray hit his fourth three of the night to put the Red up by two, bringing the fans of Newman nation to their feet for what they thought would be the game-sealing shot. However, the Bulldogs got the ball inbounds quickly, and Morgan was able to go coast-to-coast to hit a layup at the buzzer to send the game to overtime.
In overtime, the Red bench came through once again. Sophomore forward Dwight Tarwater, who is only averaging 13 minutes a game, drew first blood in the last period with an offensive rebound and put back to give the Red a two point lead. Mangano tied it again with a layup, and then Gray hit his fifth three from the corner and Tarwater connected on an elbow jumper to put Cornell up by four. After Morgan hit a deep three to put the Bulldogs within one, Gray hit his final long ball of the game, and the Bulldogs did not have an answer.
After the big win, the Red was back at it Saturday night against the Brown Bears (7-18, 1-7). Once again, although it came out with a win, the squad got off to a slow start, allowing the struggling Bears to stay in the game. Junior Matt Sullivan’s five first half three pointers were a large part of why the Red only found itself up by two at halftime.
However, the Red used its depth to tire the shorthanded Bears.
“We were playing at such a high pace, and coach told us at halftime that they would crack at some point,” Gray, who followed up his career night with another 16 points, said.
The Bears only had four players on their bench, one of whom only played five minutes. They also were without sophomore guard Sean McGonagill, who is leading the team in scoring with 14 points per game.
“They didn’t have their starting point guard, which definitely hurt them, and they didn’t have a lot of depth,” Gray said.
The Red was able to take advantage of this at the start of the second half, knocking down four straight threes, including one by junior forward Josh Figini, who had just entered the game for the first time. The Red never looked back from that point, and cruised to a 72-63 victory that was dominated by the team’s backcourt, which put up a combined 42 points.
Now two games above .500 in the conference, the Red has some momentum going into its road games against Penn and Princeton next weekend.
“This weekend we need to get one back at Penn and go in with a lot of energy,” Gray said.
According to Gray, these two big wins have given the Red the confidence it has been searching for all season.
“We are extremely confident right now,” he said. “We feel like we can beat anyone in the Ivy League.”