Wittman’s 23 lifts Cornell past Alabama, 71-67
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)—Ryan Wittman and Cornell had the edge in experience, savvy and poise while Anthony Grant’s first Alabama team is still working out the kinks.
Wittman scored 23 points and was 5-for-8 from 3-point range to help the Big Red beat the Crimson Tide 71-67 on Saturday to earn a rare win over a Southeastern Conference team—spoiling Grant’s ‘Bama debut in the process.
“Honestly, I think we caught them at a good time, while coach Grant is still trying to get his stuff in,” Cornell coach Steve Donahue said. “Still, it’s great to come in and get a win on the road against an SEC opponent like Alabama. I think they’ll be pretty good come January.
“We have a bunch of veteran leadership on this team and it means a lot to them to beat a big school like Alabama on the road to start the year.”
Cornell (1-0) opened the second half with nine straight points, building a 35-20 lead on back-to-back 3-pointers by Chris Wroblewski and Wittman.
Grant turned up his full-court press to help the Tide whittle the margin down to 53-52 on Torrance’s two free throws with 6:16 left.
But two-time defending Ivy League Conference champion Cornell, which returns all five starters and has four senior starters, answered with a 3-pointer by Birmingham native Louis Dale and never gave up the lead.
Grant, meanwhile, is trying to import his fast-paced tempo to a team that could never become a strong pressing team under predecessor Mark Gottfried. He wasn’t particularly pleased with the beginning.
“If we defend and rebound like we’re capable of, I think we win the game,” Grant said. “They’re a very, very talented offensive team and they cause problems in terms of extending your defense. The press hurt them late but it hurt us early with them being able to get some conversions. You make a mistake, they make you pay for it every single time.”
The Big Red went 6 of 7 from the free throw line over the final 2:24 to put the game away. Wroblewski made one of his two foul shots with 4.4 seconds left to make it a four-point game.
The Tide had stayed in it with Mitchell’s layup with 46 seconds to play. He was fouled on the play but missed the free throw. Wittman then grabbed the long rebound from his own miss on the other end to keep possession.
It was the Big Red’s first win over a team currently playing in the SEC since beating Arkansas in the 1972-73 season.
“It feels tremendous. This is a big win for us,” said Cornell 7-footer Jeff Foote, who had 17 points and seven rebounds. “This is a great way to start the season off. Last season we would have folded. Syracuse and Minnesota, we had leads at halftime and they made a run at us and we lost. This year we were able to keep our poise and come out with a tough win.
“We’ve come a long ways since last year.”
Foote made the Tide pay for its aggressive defense at times with easy baskets after the guards beat the press. Dale had 13 points in front of a couple of busloads of fans from his alma mater Altamont High School.
JaMychal Green led the Tide with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Mikhail Torrance got 14 of his 16 points in the second half, while Anthony Brock added 15 points and Tony Mitchell had 12.
Brock made three of Alabama’s four 3-pointers. Cornell made 10 of its 18 attempts from beyond the arc.
“The 3-point line is critical,” Grant said. “We’ve got to be able to guard the 3-point line better. They got some open looks. They made some contested shots. We weren’t able to defend the way we need to defend. We want to pride ourselves on being a very good defensive team.”
Alabama has won 19 of its last 22 home season openers but has dropped the last two. That’s a problem Grant hadn’t had, going 15-1 as a head and assistant coach in openers.
Grant replaced Gottfried after leading Virginia Commonwealth to regular-season conference championships in each of his three seasons. The longtime Billy Donovan assistant helped Florida win the 2005-06 national title.
His debut drew a relatively sparse crowd listed at 10,135 fans though the 15,000-seat arena appeared barely half full. The Tide’s third-ranked football team was playing 90 minutes away Saturday night at Mississippi State.
Grant got all four members of his first signing class into the game early, but only Mitchell scored against Cornell.
“They’re a very good basketball team,” Grant said. “We knew that coming in. I thought they played like a veteran team, they were poised all the way through.”