Saturday night could be Yale’s coronation, a moment of pure joy even while a big black cloud slowly forms above the program.
The team standing in its way still has plenty to play for.
For Columbia, Saturday night’s game at Levien Gym will be the end of an era. It’ll be the final regular season home game for Isaac Cohen, Grant Mullins, Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg, a senior class that revived a struggling program and brought it to contender status.
Yale’s win over Cornell officially eliminated Columbia from the Ivy title race, rendering the Lions’ 66-63 win over Brown on Friday meaningless from a standings perspective.
A CBI or CIT berth is certainly coming, but the Lions’ biggest chance to make an impact on the national college basketball landscape is right here and right now — to delay Yale’s celebration and maybe, just maybe, become this year’s equivalent to the Dartmouth team that precipitated the Bulldogs’ death spiral in 2015.
“We just want to go out tomorrow and compete. It’s our last game. For the seniors, it’s our last home game,” Lo said when asked if the opportunity to play spoiler to Yale added extra motivation for Saturday. “We’ve had a good Ivy League season so far and we want to make sure that we can keep it up and compete.”
Win or lose, this has already been Columbia’s best season since 1992-93, when the Lions went 10-4 in the Ancient Eight under Jack Rohan. They haven’t gone 11-3 in Ivy play since 1977-78.
Of course, that won’t entirely erase the feeling of what-might-have-been that most Columbia fans surely feel.
In the end stages of last night’s game against the Bears, Kyle Smith instructed his players not to foul with Brown inbounding the ball from under its own basket, down three with 3.2 seconds left to play.
Despite being forced to go the length of the floor, Brown got an open look, but Obi Okolie’s 35-footer fell well short.
The end result was different this time around, but the sequence brought back memories of a certain 35-footer by a certain Princeton freshman that dealt a crushing blow to Columbia’s title chances — even for Smith.
“We’re ‘that play’ away from playing for the championship,” he said of Brown’s final shot. “We were supposed to foul Cannady.
“That’s how the cookie crumbles.”