MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, NY – In front of a boisterous 1,000-plus crowd at Levien Gymnasium, the Columbia women rode the outside shooting of Janiya Clemmons and inside play of Lillian Kennedy to a 65-57 victory over Cornell, their first of the Ivy season.
The Lions (5-10, 1-1 Ivy) jumped out to a 14-point halftime lead, but the Red (7-6; 1-1) dominated the third quarter to cut the lead to two. Clemmons and Kennedy then took over in the last 10 minutes, with the junior guard scoring 10 points and the first-year forward securing four points, three rebounds (two offensive) and one assist. With the win, the Light Blue picked up their third win in four games in 2019.
In last Saturday’s 60-51 win over Columbia at Newman Arena, Cornell dominated the inside over their Empire State rivals. The Red held a plus-17 margin in total rebounds and a plus-22 percent advantage on the boards. For Columbia, they knew their effort this week had to center on rebounding.
“This week, we focused on crashing the boards and that (rebounding) was our main key,” Clemmons said.
“When we played there last Saturday, they definitely outrebounded us,” echoed Kennedy. “So, all week we had the scout team come in and that’s something we emphasized in practice.” The extra effort worked with the Lions coming away with six more boards (38-32) than Cornell, a 42 percent offensive rebounding rate and a 7 percent advantage over the Red.
With Cornell holding a 9-8 lead halfway through the first quarter, Columbia went on a 10-2 run to finish the first stanza with a 18-11 lead. The Lions had six different players scoring with Sienna Durr leading the way with four points, twice as many as she had the previous weekend. Cornell, meanwhile, only had Lauren Bagwell-Katalinich and Kate Smarac making it on to the scoring ledger.
In the second quarter, Columbia gave up four points before going on a 16-1 run to open up a 18 point lead with just 2:36 to go in the half. Samantha Widmann made two buckets and Theresa Grace Mbanefo sank two free throws over the remaining time to help Cornell to a quick 6-2 run, leaving the team down 36-22 as they entered the locker room.
At the halfway point, the Lions had 21 rebounds (eight offensive) compared to the Red’s 15. Columbia only shot 20 percent from three, but were successful on 56 percent of their two pointers. The Red only managed to hit 17 percent of their threes and 44 percent of their twos. The Lions, who had seven players scoring three or more points, were led by Durr with eight points and Mikayla Markham with seven. Cornell had only four athletes scoring and two with more than three points. Bagwell-Katalinich was the game’s leading scorer with 10 points at this time, but she was held scoreless over the last 8:35 of the half.
The Big Red came out in the third quarter, playing more like the defense-oriented team that entered the contest on a five-game win streak. They dominated on the glass, securing a 12-8 advantage (six offensive), while holding Columbia to 13 percent shooting. Columbia ended up scoring only one two-point basket and nine points total, as the Red put up 21 points of their own. While Sramac led the way with two of three from downtown, Cornell left points on the table, shoot only 31 percent (4-for-13) from two and 58 percent (7-for-12) from the free throw line. With the Red’s defense locked in, the Lions’ 45-43 lead looked in doubt as the contest entered the final 10 minutes.
“With a young group, you can’t dwell on the mistakes as much,” Columbia coach Megan Griffith said. “It’s just making sure they know what they need to do when they step back onto the court.”
Clemmons followed her coach’s advice.
“We just kept attacking. I didn’t care about the misses,” Clemmons said.
Despite entering the final frame 2-for-12, the Lions’ captain hit the team’s first four jumpers over the first four minutes to give the team a 53-48 lead.
Following Sramac’s fourth three pointer of the day, Clemmons missed her own three from the left side. After the loose rebound headed out of bounds, Bagwell-Katalinich threw the rock back under the basket in the direction of Sramac. Unfortunately for Cornell, it ended in the hands of Kennedy, who immediately went in for the successful layup.
Bagwell-Katalinich got two points back on a fast break layup to make it 55-53, but missed the and-one free throw. On the next possession, Kennedy retrieved a loose ball under the right side of the basket with four seconds on the shot clock, kicking it out to Riley Casey for her first three after missing seven previous attempts. Following several empty possessions for both teams, Bagwell-Katalinich hit two free throws to make it 58-55 with just under two minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The next time down the court, Markham missed the hoop on her layup, but Kennedy was in the right place again, grabbing the rebound and hitting another two pointer for the 60-55 lead. If that wasn’t enough for the rookie, she drew a charge on Widmann with 1:13 left, effectively ending the game. The Lions hit five of six free throw attempts to ice the 65-57 victory.
Columbia could only manage to shoot 17 percent (3-for-18) from three, but they made 55 percent (21-for-38) from inside the arc and 74 percent (14-for-19) from the free throw line. Clemmons finished with 16 points and six rebounds, while Kennedy had seven points and a game-high 15 boards. Durr added 13 points and Casey had 11. For Cornell, Bagwell-Katalinich had another double-double with a game-high 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Sramac tied a career-high with 14 points. Overall, Cornell shot 42 percent from two, but that number drops to 36 percent after removing Bagwell-Katalinich’s 8-for-16 effort. From three, the Red shot 31 percent, but that number drops to zero after taking away Sramac’s 4-for-5 performance. From the line, the team only managed 13 of 25 for 52 percent.
One year ago, Cornell came to Levien and left with a 57-47 win. At the time, Griffith said, “In this game with a young team, we’ve (the coaches) got to do a lot of talking, but we’re trying to remove ourselves from that. We want it to become the players’ team and that’s when your team gets really good.”
“I think we’re in a much better place,” Griffith reflected on Saturday. “Player-led teams are way more successful than coach-led teams. At the end of the day, for them to be able to make decisions on the floor in real-time is what makes us good.”
While the team enjoyed its first conference win, it knows that league’s perennial powers Princeton and Penn will arrive on Friday and Saturday night. The young Lions are confident and appear ready for the challenge.
“This team is here and we’re excited to make out mark on the league,” Griffith said.
“That (work) starts right now,” Kennedy said when asked about facing the killer Ps. “We don’t really have days off. We might have days off the court, but mentally we’re still locked in and getting ready for the next two games coming up.”