March 6, 2009

Courtesy Cornell College Athletics

ST. PAUL, MINN. - Cornell's record-breaking season came to an end Friday night, but the Rams did not go down without a fight.

Cornell had fourth-ranked UW-Stevens Point on the ropes with the game tied and less than three minutes remaining in regulation. The Pointers pulled away with eight unanswered points down the stretch and survived a 61-53 battle in the first round of the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Tournament at a packed Schoenecker Arena.

The Rams, making their first national tournament appearance since 1994, closed out the campaign with a school-record 21 wins and seven defeats. Five of those losses came against nationally-ranked opponents.

Cornell trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half and faced a 34-26 deficit at halftime. The Rams charged back with a 10-0 spurt late in the second half, capped with a layup from senior guard Michael Tierney (Cedar Rapids/Jefferson) that tied the score at 53-53 with 3:43 left to play.

Senior Griffin LaDew (Pewaukee, Wis./Waukesha Catholic Memorial), who led the Rams with 17 points and five 3-point goals, had a 3-point attempt fall off the mark with 2:49 remaining that would have given the Rams their first lead of the game. UW-Stevens Point (24-4) regained the lead for good with a layup on the next possession. Following a Cornell timeout, LaDew had a potential go-ahead 3-pointer rim in and out. The Pointers stretched the lead to 57-53 on a jumper with 47 seconds remaining and then sealed the win with four free throws in the closing seconds.

The Rams climbed back into the game while holding UW-Stevens Point to 29.6 percent shooting in the second half. Junior Chris Handke (Bellevue/Bellevue) was a force on the defensive end with three blocked shots and altering several others. The 6-foot-11 center finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. Tierney collected nine points, eight rebounds and three assists. Riley Larson (Cedar Rapids/Jefferson) added five boards.

Khalifa El-Amin and Matt Moses paced the Pointers with 17 points apiece. El-Amin netted 15 points on five 3-point goals in the first half.

Cornell shot 39.0 percent from the field to the Pointers' 37.5. UW-Stevens Point held a 39-35 edge on the boards. The Pointers went 13 of 21 from the foul line while the Rams missed their only two free throw attempts.