We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Columbia is next because no Ivy mascot is cuddlier than Roar-ee. Especially not the creepy Quaker guy.
Some nights, you have the feeling you’re going to see something special.
The night of March 7, 2015, five seconds before tip-off, I sat down next to Toothless Tiger on Jadwin Gym’s press row. The first words out of my mouth?
“I think Maodo goes for 40 tonight.”
As it turned out, this prediction was wildly inaccurate.
He only scored 37.
In 2014-15, Maodo Lo watched as the rest of the Columbia basketball team collapsed around him.
Grant Mullins, lost for the year to a concussion. Alex Rosenberg, lost for the year to a broken foot. Meiko Lyles, lost for the year to a severe case of “leaving the team.” Luke Petrasek, more or less lost for the year to a particularly nasty undisclosed illness. By the final game of the season, Steve Frankoski joined the walking wounded, leaving the likes of Nate Hickman and Noah Springwater to fill the open spots on the floor.
At the start of the season, fans and observers could legitimately ask whether or not Lo was capable of carrying the team on his back. Through a series of gangbusters performances, Lo answered this question with a resounding YES.
No performance was finer than the one he saved for last. Despite the adverse conditions — a must-win game, coming off a terrible loss at Penn, against the treacherous backdrop of Jadwin Gym — Lo seemed completely fixated upon only two things: the ball, and the basket.
Shot after shot dropped from long range. He took them from NBA distance, over two defenders, pump-faking helpless Tigers out of their shoes. Any time he was given a foot of space, he made a three. Princeton tried tightening its defense on him to a six-inch radius.
Lo didn’t care. Every time the ball left his fingertips, the swoosh seemed a mere inevitability. I have never, in my life, seen an athlete that locked in.
By halftime, Lo had 22 of Columbia’s 38. Statisticians started flipping through musty old record books to find the Columbia record for threes in a game. The junior guard blew past that mark (eight, Dragutin Kravic, 2004), moving the Ivy League record firmly in his sights.
With his last three of the game, his eleventh, Lo set that record.
Like all Columbia athletics accomplishments, even Lo’s glorious night came with a hefty dose of heartbreak. Up nine with two minutes left, the Lions let a determined Princeton team bulldoze its way to the foul line and, eventually, the lead.
With just two seconds left, Lo grabbed the inbounds pass and darted down the floor, incomprehensibly moving fast enough to set his feet and loft up a floated shot, what would be his 12th three of the night, the game-winner, and the prophesied 40th point.
Off the back rim, off the front rim, and finally out.
Maybe nothing’s ever perfect. Maybe every delicious dish must be served alongside a dash of bitterness. Or maybe Columbia is well and truly cursed.
Whatever the case, the ending should not overshadow Maodo’s magnificent night, a night that ranks among the great moments in Columbia’s basketball history, a night that firmly earned him the title of Chairman.