LORETTO - Although the St. Francis University men's basketball team still is seeking its first win more than a third of the way through its schedule, first-year coach Rob Krimmel and his Red Flash players maintain they aren't pressing.
Cornell brought plenty of its own pressure on Friday night.
Forced into 14 first-half turnovers by the Big Red's aggressive man-to-man defense, not even having five scorers in double digits - including a team-high 16 courtesy of freshman Greg Brown and a double-double courtesy of sophomore Earl Brown - was enough to bring the Flash all the way back from a 15-point deficit as they dropped to 0-11 with a 79-67 loss before 627 at DeGol Arena.
"We talked about putting two halves together," Krimmel said of his postgame discussion with his squad. "We made a run and made some plays, but we've got to do a better job starting games, so we can put ourselves in a position to win nd not have to make a miraculous comeback."
Trailing 29-14 with 8:01 left in the first half after Errick Peck's three-point play, St. Francis had it down to a one-possession game twice in the last 15:08 but never was able to draw even. After Greg Brown's two free throws with 8:33 to play got it to 58-55, Cornell went on a 16-7 run, Johnathan Gray's deep 3-pointer at the 2:50 mark providing the dagger to make it an 11-point difference.
The Flash only made two of their last eight shots from the field as the Big Red put the game away.
"Fatigue plays a role, but we still should have been able to get things done. The shots weren't falling. We weren't getting in the right places, but we should have got it done," said sophomore guard Stephon Whyatt, who had a big hand in bringing St. Francis back with three 3-pointers and 14 points to go along with four assists.
Umar Shannon had 13 points and six assists for the Flash, while Ollie Jackson netted 12, and Earl Brown collected 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Cornell snapped a three-game losing streak to move to 5-8. The Big Red did most of their damage early, blitzing pick-and-rolls, double-teaming along the sideline and using some full-court pressure to force St. Francis into five turnovers in the first 2:12; the Flash were averaging 12.2 turnovers per game through their first 10 contests.
"We played a very tough schedule early. In trying to win those games, I think we got away from our identity. We are a pressure team," Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. "It wasn't about them. It was about us. That was the key."
The Big Red outscored SFU 16-5 in points off turnovers, 10-2 on the fastbreak and 40-14 in the paint. Gray from the outside and Peck from in the paint tied for game scoring honors with 21 points. Six-foot-eight Eitan Chemerinski chipped in with 15 points.
To make matters more difficult for the Flash, 6-6 freshman forward Stephon Mosley, who was averaging 8.9 points and 4.1 rebounds, went down with an ankle injury in the first two minutes and never returned.
St. Francis now has dropped 13 straight games going back to last season.
"I just think we need to dig deep and just play hard," Earl Brown said.
With the Flash about to enter Northeast Conference play still looking to get into the win column, one might think the team would be feeling the heat or anxiety - especially Krimmel, after his hiring in the wake of Don Friday's ouster after last season raised some eyebrows and drew some sharp criticism.
Krimmel said he and his team can't be focused on that.
"Anytime you're in this spot, the pressure to get that first win is always going to be there," Krimmel said. "We can't worry about that, because, if we worry about those things, we won't take care of our business. We've got to worry about the things that we control. If we do that, a win will come."
Although the postgame body language was one of disappointment, the Red Flash players were energized during their rallies late in the first half and through the first 15 minutes of the second, actually smiling on the court.
"You want to win. You don't play the game to lose. We'll get it. We'll definitely get it. It's a rocky start," said Shannon, a redshirt junior point guard who is the most experienced player in Krimmel's rotation. "We're a confident group. Like Earl said at one of the games, we might be down, but we're not out. That's how we feel. We're good at comebacks, but, if we learn to start out well, I think we'll take it to another level."
Game notes: Krimmel said Mosley's injury didn't appear to be severe and he wanted to come back into the game but was held out as a precaution. ... Six-eleven Storm Stanley was listed as a probable starter for the Flash but didn't play. Krimmel said the fast tempo of the game dictated the move. ... Courtney was a high school friend of Flash all-time leading scorer Joe Anderson and played pro ball with Anderson overseas. He led Bucknell to a win over St. Francis in th 1990-91 season. ... St. Francis next plays Central Connecticut State at home on Jan. 3.
CORNELL (5-8): Gray 7-12 3-3 21, Chemerinski 5-6 5-6 15, Cancer 4-8 1-2 9, Miller 1-4 0-1 2, Asafo-Adjei 0-0 0-2 0, Peck 7-12 7-9 21, Scelfo 2-6 0-0 5, Cressler 2-3 0-0 4, D. Cherry 1-3 0-0 2, Figini 0-2 0-0 0, Tomic 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 29-57 16-23 79.
ST. FRANCIS (0-11): G. Brown 6-11 2-2 16, Whyatt 4-10 3-4 14, Shannon 3-11 6-7 13, E. Brown 4-6 3-5 11, Mosley 0-0 0-0 0, Jackson 4-10 0-1 12, Drinnon 0-0 1-2 1, Major 0-1 0-0 0, Peters 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 21-51 15-21 67.
Halftime-Cornell 41-34. 3-Point Goals-Cornell 5-14 (Gray 4-7, Scelfo 1-4, Miller 0-1, Cressler 0-1, D. Cherry 0-1), St. Francis 10-27 (Jackson 4-9, Whyatt 3-7, G. Brown 2-4, Shannon 1-6, Major 0-1). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-Cornell 34 (Peck 7), St. Francis 31 (E. Brown 12). Assists-Cornell 19 (Asafo-Adjei 6), St. Francis 15 (Shannon 6). Total Fouls-Cornell 19, St. Francis 20. A-627.