Stephen A. Smith: Cornell more than ready for Temple, and it showed

Posted: March 20, 2010

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - On several occasions throughout his postgame news conference, coach Fran Dunphy kept intimating there were minimal issues he'd had with his team's defensive performance. They had played tough. They guarded. They competed. They executed.

If Cornell hadn't done the same thing, perhaps he'd have a reason to be satisfied.

Except Dunphy's disappointed, instead. No doubt the Temple contingent, truckloads of supporters who showed up to cheer, departed bemoaning the 78-65 beat-down their Owls absorbed at the hands of Cornell, as well.

The truth is they are wasting their energy.

There's something to be said about being resigned that your team just was not good enough. Certainly not as good as the opponent. And if ever that were the case, it certainly applied in this East Regional first-round game at Veterans Memorial Arena. One that ultimately regressed into a rout.

"Cornell played a terrific basketball game today," Dunphy deadpanned. "I thought they were good all year long." But after watching Cornell's precision, mainly their 43.8-percent shooting from beyond the arc in the second half, everyone understood when Dunphy said, "I thought they were great today."

Temple fans were given all of 23 seconds to cheer, when Luis Guzman nailed a three to start the game. From that point on, it was either the Big Red center, Jeff Foote, using his size to score inside, or create space for his perimeter shooters to go to work. From that point on, Temple simply never had a chance.

The score was 22-11 with 10 minutes, 23 seconds left in the first half. It was 37-29 at intermission. And then it rained one trey after another . . . after another . . . elevating Cornell's lead into a 78-59 divide and turning Temple's dreams of advancing in the NCAA tournament into, well, a pipe dream, while reminding the 29-6 Owls of how far they still have to go.

There was a three from Jon Jaques to put Cornell up, 40-30. Then another three from leading scorer Ryan Wittman (20 points). Then another from Wittman, then another from Jaques - with Temple's lone solution amounting to nothing but a bunch of time-outs.

"Our mentality was that we wanted to be the toughest team," point guard Louis Dale explained. "We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game. Coming into the game, we were pretty loose. We got out on the court and they wouldn't let us touch the balls, so we were just having fun with fake layup lines and no balls. We were just really ready to go."

Temple came into the game with a higher seed, 5, boasting a better, tougher conference, and supposedly a few more athletes.

"Temple's not known for scoring quick," said analyst Clark Kellogg, working the game for CBS Sports. "They're methodical and structured. They defend and wear you down. But they don't score quickly and there isn't that much speed on their defense. They were tailor-made for Cornell, and Cornell knew it."

The Big Red knew it because they lead the nation in three-point shooting, including Wittman, who quite a few NBA scouts should take a look at.

"We're a very good experienced passing team," Cornell coach Steve Donahue said following the game. "And I sensed that in the A-10, they haven't seen many teams like us that would maybe take advantage if you go under a ball-screen or a triple handoff."

Cornell finished the game shooting 56.3 (27 of 48) from the field and nearly 40 percent on threes. They used Foote (16 points, 7 rebounds) and his size to garner attention. There were picks and screens galore. Back-door cuts and anything else you'd see at a basketball clinic. That it occurred by a coach who would timidly acknowledge he'd lost to Dunphy the previous 12 times was of little consolation to Temple's head man yesterday afternoon.

"This is the NCAA tournament," Dunphy said. "That's how it goes sometimes."

It wasn't supposed to go that way this time. But it did because Cornell shot better, because they were better.

So congratulations, Temple. But there's still a lot of work to do.

Contact columnist Stephen A. Smith at 215-854-5846.

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