Published March 19, 2010
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – If you must apply the novelty angle, then sure, Cornell coach Steve Donahue finally beat his mentor, Temple coach Fran Dunphy, in his 13th attempt.
Or, if you're partial to the underdog theme, then the notion of the Ivy League's finest knocking off the Atlantic 10 regular-season champions has to warm your insides.
But those are just cliches.
If any of that truly mattered -- and it didn't seem that way Friday at Veterans Memorial Arena -- the Big Red's 78-65 pasting of the Owls wouldn't have been so significant. If any of that truly mattered, the victory could have been labeled a fluke, a chance occurrence after five fruitless prior trips to the NCAA tournament.
The best team prevailed Friday.
"We've been here before, and I think that was the key for our success, or one of them at least," senior guard Louis Dale said.
Real talk -- the Big Red owned the Owls.
Yep, the smart kids from upstate New York outclassed the city kids from Philly, and it was almost unfair at times.
But that's what experience does, and that's what liking each other can yield. This is not to suggest Temple is in disarray, but merely a means of illustrating how teams, when united by a common pursuit, can achieve extraordinary things.
The last time any Ivy League school won in the NCAA tournament was 1998.
Maybe we should start checking for the last time any Ivy League school won consecutive games, because Cornell is that good.
Maybe you know about the core.
It starts with Ryan Wittman, the 6-foot-7 forward whose dad, Randy, used to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Dad now is an assistant with Washington, and Wittman, the Ivy League Player of the Year, might join him there next year. He scored 20 points Friday.
Then there's 7-foot center Jeff Foote, who has the look of a pro as well. He was a thorn in Kansas All-America Cole Aldrich's side earlier this season in a narrow loss in Lawrence. Foote finished with 16 points and a game-high seven rebounds against Temple.
But if there's someone who holds it all together, it's Dale, the point guard who can get his shot and create whenever he wants, it seems. At least that's how it was against the Owls, when he went for a game-high 21 points while handing out seven assists.
All three are seniors, better yet best friends, who have traveled this path the past two years without notching a win.
Not again, Dale said.
"I think our mentality was we wanted to be the toughest team," he said. "We just wanted to -- we knew that it was going to be a hard-fought game, and we just needed to stay poised and be tough. We were able to do that today and get a win."
Of course, don't forget about Donahue.
He's the one, as he explained following Friday's victory, who realized Temple, primarily because of its conference affiliation, tends to slip underneath on screens, meaning there was a little extra space for the Big Red's shooters if they were inclined to take advantage. And did they ever -- Wittman was 4-for-6 from long range, including three in a row early in the second half. Dale drilled three more as well.
"I thought with our plan of attack that we could get 20 to 25 decent looks from three because I think they've gotten away with (slipping under) in their league," Donahue said.
Cornell shot 23 threes, making nine.
And then defensively, dusting off a 1-3-1 zone with the 7-foot Foote in the middle was a tactic the Big Red coach could chuckle at after the fact. Donahue used it the last weekend of the regular season, and he said he'd never even consider it if Foote weren't around.
"It's in the bag, but it's like a bad 2 iron that you never want to hit, but sometimes it works," he said.
But to pull it out in the biggest game of the year?
It was just another reason this wasn't an accident.
"Well, I think coming into the game, we were pretty loose," Dale said. "Even though we got the NCAA game, it's just another game. We're going to go out and play hard and have fun."
The fun's not over, either.
Jeffrey Martin is a contributor to FOXSports.com. He also writes for the Houston Chronicle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter: @JMartinChron.