To call Alex Rosenberg’s buzzer-beating pull-up elbow jumper to win Saturday night’s Columbia vs. Harvard game “redemption,” as many have been doing on social media, is odd to me. It is of course a callback to the end of the Columbia vs. Harvard game at Levien on Valentine’s Day 2014, when Rosenberg hit what would have been a game-winner against the Crimson but was called for an offensive foul, an extremely controversial (read: bad) call that ended up cratering Columbia’s hopes of competing for an Ivy title. To call Saturday night’s shot “redemption” implies that Rosenberg did something wrong to cost Columbia in that game two years ago, which is unfair to him. Saturday night’s shot marked the completion of two comebacks: Columbia’s from down 20 in the first half, and Rosenberg’s from a pair of injuries which cost him all of last season and part of this one. To talk about one without the other renders the story incomplete.
The last time Columbia won at Lavietes Pavilion was 2008. Hillary Clinton was leading Barack Obama in the primaries and Dwight Howard won the Slam Dunk Contest (and was still likeable). The Lions had close calls since, including nearly coming back from a 17-point halftime deficit last year and having the lead with under a minute to play before melting down in 2013. Saturday night’s game was reminiscent of last year’s effort: The Lions gave up the first 14 points of the game, trailed by 20 at one point, and were down 16 at the break, having nearly given up twice as many points as they managed to score. Maodo Lo was not only ice cold but not nearly involved enough in the offense, not being able to get a shot off until 11 minutes into the game, at which point the Lions were already down 15. At halftime, Alex Rosenberg had two points. Columbia had the type of start that was befitting of the way these games typically go for Columbia athletics. With a chance to start 4-0 and end the title hopes of the team that has owned the Ivy League for years, the Lions were collapsing.
Columbia’s defense led the charge to get the Lions back in the game after halftime, but it was the Alex Rosenberg show on the other end. Rosenberg scored 12 points in the second half, sparking 9-0 and 8-0 runs to get Columbia back into the game and into the lead respectively. The man who missed an entire year because of a Jones Fracture and some games this year due to another foot injury single-handedly led the Lions’ charge back into the game and woke up a dormant offense.
In the comprehensive Columbia season preview on this website at the beginning of the season, I called Alex Rosenberg Columbia’s biggest question mark. Here was one of the best players in the league coming off a debilitating injury that would assuredly slow him down as he got reacquainted to an offense that desperately needed to speed up. How was this all going to work? Not to mention that there really was not a great position to have him guard man-to-man on the other end of the floor. There have been some moments watching this team live that it is clear the team is still not entirely sure how to use Rosenberg. He’s one of their few players who can get to the foul line, requiring the ball in his hands to drive to the rim, but he also seems at ease spotting up on the perimeter to knock down threes. Before his fateful jumper, he was mostly a decoy for the final few minutes Saturday night. With Harvard’s defense attempting to shut him down, it opened up shots for Mullins, Petrasek and Lo. Not all of those shots fell, but most were open because of the attention Rosenberg drew from the defense. Rosenberg’s play is back to the point after his injuries that he is, along with Maodo Lo, a threat that must be accounted for every time Columbia crosses halfcourt.
One of the tropes in most of Columbia’s losses under Kyle Smith is a failure of the offense in critical situations. Take 2013, for example. That year, Columbia had the ball with a chance to tie or win the game in the final minute of eight Ivy games and went 0-8 in those games. Saturday night was shaping up to end the same way. Down one in the final minute, Maodo Lo’s three-pointer for the lead rimmed out and Harvard secured the rebound with seven seconds left. Typically this is the point in the game in which the opposition hits both from the stripe and Smith calls timeout to set up a three-pointer which hits back rim. But the narrative changed as Miller missed the front end of a one-and-one, part of an atrocious 7-for-13 Crimson effort from the line in the game. Columbia had a timeout to use but Smith let his two seniors dictate the end of the game on their own terms. Lo brought the ball across halfcourt, and with three seconds to go passed to a trailing Rosenberg on his right. Rosenberg dribbled to the left elbow and pulled up for a shot that would give Columbia reason to believe this is truly, finally, their year.
Also in that aforementioned Columbia season preview was this oddly prescient paragraph from Miles Johnson:
If Alex Rosenberg is even a fraction of as good as he was the last time he laced up at Levien, Columbia may dare to dream a little bigger this year. If Alex Rosenberg returns to his old form, the buzz on campus won’t just be about a marquee Harvard game in February. No, if we get the old Alex Rosenberg, Lions fans may want to start getting sized for a pair of glass slippers.
After Saturday’s magical ending, Columbia still has many hurdles on the way to their first Ivy title in generations. But right now, it’s safe to say the “old” Alex Rosenberg is back. And my slipper size is a 12.