Princeton pulls away from Columbia, 64-45

NEW YORK — For about 20 minutes Friday night, Princeton and Columbia played hideous, inefficient basketball. The two teams combined to shoot 34.6 percent in the first half (18-for-52). It was the only way the Lions could pull off the upset win they needed to revive their flagging Ivy tournament hopes.

Needless to say, rock fights against Princeton don’t stay that way for very long. The Tigers (18-6, 11-0 Ivy) hit eight three-pointers in the second half after only making two in the first and ran the Lions (10-14, 4-7) out of their own gym, 64-45.

“Devin [Cannady] made some shots. I thought we found him in the corners,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “We did a good job screening against the zone. I just think the second half of a game, you get a little bit more comfortable with the gym.”

Princeton plays at a glacially slow place and averaged 18.7 seconds per possession heading into Friday, 44th longest out of the 351 Division I teams. Minimizing the total number of possessions in a game is the Tigers’ modus operandi and it did the Lions in once their offense got into a rhythm.

“If the game is that slow, it lends into the way they want to play,” Columbia coach Jim Engles said. “They came out, made a couple of threes and got some separation from us and then it was hard for us to get anything going offensively.”

Princeton shot 48 percent in the second half while holding Columbia to a 32.1 field goal percentage.

Turning point: Sophomore guard Myles Stephens rose out of a crowd just to the right of the key, fired and hit a three-pointer to push Princeton’s lead to 33-25 with 16:48 to go in the second half. The shot was a eureka moment for the Tigers and kicked off a backbreaking 21-4 run. Having recovered their three-point stroke, Princeton hit five shots from distance in the decisive 6:28 stretch.

What it means for Princeton: The Tigers won their seventh straight over Columbia and maintained their perfect Ivy record. No Ivy team has gone 14-0 in league play since Cornell in 2008.

Princeton’s NCAA Tournament at-large hopes are faint — and that’s putting it generously — but they remain alive. The Tigers would need to go 14-0 in Ivy play and watch every other mid-major with a better at-large case (Middle Tennessee State, Texas-Arlington, Monmouth, etc.) escape their conference tournaments unscathed to even enter the fringes of the bubble conversation.

What it means for Columbia:

The Lions’ loss, coupled with Penn’s 69-66 win over Cornell, puts their season on life support. The Quakers can push to a two-game lead in the race for the fourth and final spot in the Ivy League Tournament with two to play and clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker if they win at Levien on Saturday.

Standout Star — Princeton: Sophomore guard Devin Cannady

This guy just loves silencing huge crowds at Levien, doesn’t he? Cannady hit three treys during Princeton’s decisive run, including a wide-open shot from the right corner that pushed his team’s lead to double digits, 36-25.

Standout Star — Columbia: Freshman guard Mike Smith

Smith was Columbia’s only consistent source of offense and even that didn’t last long. The point guard scored 11 of the Lions’ 22 first-half points. He was held off the scoresheet in the second half.

Up next for Princeton: Swings up to Ithaca to take on Cornell at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Princeton beat Cornell at Jadwin Gym, 69-60, on Feb. 10.

Up next for Columbia: Hosts Penn at Levien Gym at 7 p.m. on Saturday. Columbia lost to Penn at the Palestra, 70-62, on Feb. 10.

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