Columbia opened up Ivy play the best way it possibly could have — by closing out a tough opponent in a close game. Cornell fought back from an 11-point deficit in the final four minutes, but the Lions made the free throws they needed to and held on, 74-70.
Turning point: After Matt Morgan hit a three-pointer from the right wing to draw Cornell within two, 71-69, with 16.2 seconds remaining, the Big Red knew they needed to rely on their press to have a realistic shot at winning.
They nearly got one.
A great two-man trap poked the ball free from Maodo Lo, but Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof attempted to pass the ball while seated on the floor in the scramble instead of calling for a timeout.
One could see what Abdur-Ra’oof was trying to do: Morgan was open for what would have been an easy game-tying layup. Nevertheless, Alex Rosenberg easily picked the pass off and the Lions closed the game out from the free-throw line.
Impact — Columbia: Alex Rosenberg’s unexpected return from an ankle injury suffered against NJIT helped give the Lions the lift they needed once it became apparent that their usual method of winning games wasn’t going to work.
Cornell controlled the tempo in the early going, turning Columbia over numerous times and forcing rushed shots. The Lions had one of their worst three-point shooting nights of the year and Lo was held largely in check.
The Lions won by pounding away at Cornell’s thin frontcourt. Rosenberg’s size was a mismatch that Cornell had no answer for. In fact, the Big Red didn’t have much of an answer any time a Columbia player drove to the basket or tried to position himself for an offensive rebound. The Lions collected 12 offensive rebounds to Cornell’s four and attempted 29 free throws, hitting 23.
Impact — Cornell: The Big Red came in shorthanded, as news broke pregame that star guard Robert Hatter was out for the night with an injury (coach Bill Courtney did not have a timetable for his return). Making matters worse was David Onuorah’s bad night. The junior – who is by far Cornell’s best rebounder — got into early foul trouble, forcing Courtney to use a smaller lineup for much of the night.
The offense largely revolved around freshman Matt Morgan, who more than adequately filled Hatter’s role as a high-volume shooter with long-range skills. He’ll surely be in the conversation for Rookie of the Year at season’s end.
Ultimately, Columbia’s size advantage wore down Cornell. The final score doesn’t reflect how well the Big Red pressed and contacted Lions players early, speeding them up and forcing them out of the offense. Cornell will give teams problems going forward.
Performance of note — Columbia: Alex Rosenberg
That Rosenberg was playing at all was a bit of a surprise, considering the nasty ankle injury he suffered against NJIT that had forced him to miss Columbia’s previous five contests.
Rosenberg was anything but tentative in his return to action, attacking the basket early and often. He finished with 14 points on eight shots.
Performance of note — Cornell: Matt Morgan
Morgan carried Cornell’s offense with his shooting ability — he finished with 29 points and hit five threes.
With Hatter out, Morgan handled the extended workload well, playing 35 minutes without much of an issue.
Up next: These two teams face off again in Ithaca next Saturday.