There was a great game played on the campus of Columbia on Wednesday night. Two great teams playing their best basketball in late March faced off in front of a raucous crowd of passionate fans. It was a banner night for the League and it meant little to anyone in Levien Gymnasium that the tournament was one of little prestige.
Columbia and Yale played their hearts out with the Bulldogs ultimately emerging victorious thanks to one of the Ivy’s most impressive individual performances of the season. Javier Duren, after halftime, took his game to a new level, setting new career highs (vs. D-I opponents) in points (33) and rebounds (9). Duren was everywhere, slashing through the lane and getting to the rim against Columbia’s staunch defense, nabbing rebounds, and controlling the game for the Elis. This kind of transcendental performance was the only way Yale was going to pull this game out as the Lions, spurred on by an incredible showing from the Columbia faithful, would not go quietly into the Morningside night as they attempted to extend this historic season.
Back and forth the two squads went in the game’s final 15 minutes, the lead changing hands over and over again. Yale’s duo of Duren and Sears, aided by a valuable bench appearance from Jack Montague, battled possession after possession against Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg, while big man Cory Osetkowski took advantage of mismatches on the block.
In the game’s final decisive minutes, Justin Sears– who despite his 17 points had less of a direct impact on the game than he usually has (thanks to an extra heaping of defensive attention) — reminded all observers why he is considered the league’s best young talent, taking the lane, rising up, and flushing over his defender in a heart-stopping, game-changing moment that swung the momentum to the Dawgs. Then, Cotton came up with a bucket after grabbing a loose ball from Meiko Lyles. Duren stole it on the next possession and finished a layup to make it a two-possession game. Suddenly, the home team, despite an incredible shooting performance from downtown (15-28 3PT by the time the final buzzer sounded), was in trouble.
Rosenberg responded on the next possession, using his incredible body control to get his defender out of position and draw a foul– a move he’s perfected over the course of this season. Back to a two point lead for Yale. But the Bulldogs once again had an answer as Sears used his athleticism to muscle by his defender and lay in the finger roll and the foul. Now it was desperation time for Columbia with under 2:00 to go.
Meiko Lyles stepped up to the plate and nailed a three. Duren responded by bleeding the clock down and then aggressively working to the rim for another layup. After both teams wasted scoring opportunities, Maodo Lo gave the Levien crowd something to roar about, bringing Columbia within one on another three. The Lions were forced to foul and Duren returned to the line for two shots. After making the first, he back rimmed the second.
But the 6’4″ Duren just wanted it more on this night, getting to the ball and securing possession for the Elis, then stepping to the line to knock down two more backbreaking free throws.
But still, Columbia would not give up. After a Cotton free throw pushed the lead to 5, Lo came down and knocked down his sixth three of the night. After two more Duren freebies, Frankoski nailed a moonshot three to ensure that the Lions would have a shot to tie. After Duren went make-make again, the Lions had just over two seconds to work one more miracle. But the Levien luck had run out on Kyle Smith’s merry band of snipers as Lo’s off-balance heave caught only backboard, ending one of the most entertaining games of the 2014 season.
Lo, Isaac Cohen, and Kyle Smith were disappointed in the press conference, but all three were visibly proud of what the program accomplished this season and excited to prepare for what looks to be a promising season. In fact, Columbia should contend for an Ivy title with the entire roster returning.
So on marches Yale, the last Ivy standing in this magical five-team postseason. The Bulldogs are now just two games from a postseason tournament championship. Their opponent and venue will be revealed on Thursday night after the conclusion of the final CIT quarterfinal. The CIT semifinal game will be played on April 1st and televised on the CBS Sports Network.
As Javier Duren said in the postgame press conference when asked about the experience of playing in the CIT, “We’ve come this far. We want to finish this now.” With its talented point guard healthy again, Yale is peaking at the right time, getting some valuable competitive late-season experience. and has a chance to win some CIT hardware. And by the way, the Bulldogs return all their starters in 2015.