Columbia built an early lead and avoided a late-game collapse, as the Lions opened the Ivy schedule with a convincing 75-61 victory over Cornell Saturday at Levien Gym.
The Big Red (3-11, 0-1 Ivy) started out strong, shooting 57% by the first media timeout, to take a quick 12-9 lead. Unfortunately for the visitors, the Lions (6-11 overall, 1-0) limited Cornell to 14% shooting over the next 14-plus minutes. The Columbia offense, meanwhile, was clicking on all cylinders, shooting 67% from two, 50% from three and 71% from the free throw line to take a commanding 48-29 halftime lead.
Things might have been worse for Cornell, except the team got to the free throw line 14 times and made 12.
The Red came out of the locker room with renewed energy, chipping away at the Lions’ lead. A Terrance McBride jumper at the 13:49 mark made it a 10-point game, 52-42, and the Levien crowd started to wonder if they were in for another nail-biting finish.
Columbia quickly turned the tables on its Empire State rivals, with Jack Forrest and Ike Nweke leading the Lions on a 14-2 run to stretch the lead to 22. The Big Red rebounded for their own 11-0 run, punctuated by back-to-back Jimmy Boeheim layups, to make it an 66-55 point game with just over four minutes remaining.
The Lions squashed any chance of a Cornell comeback when Tai Bibbs nailed a three-pointer from the right elbow and Mike Smith hit a short jumper in the paint to get the lead back to 16, effectively ending the contest.
Columbia finished the night shooting 54% from inside the arc, 44% (7-for-16) from three and 83% (10-for-12) from the charity stripe. Forrest led the way with a career-high 23 points on 10-for-15 shooting. Mike Smith totaled 15 points (13 in the first half), as well as game highs of seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. Bibbs and Nweke added 12 and nine points, respectively, for the victors.
Cornell was limited to 44% shooting from two, although it did make 61% from inside the arc in the second half. The Big Red, which entered the night shooting 27.4% from three (#340 nationally), were held to just 20% (5-for-25) from outside the arc. They hit 84% of its free throws but only managed to get to the line five times over the last 20 minutes.
Neither team dominated on the turnovers, with the Lions committing 10 and the Red 12. However, Columbia took greater advantage of the miscues, picking up 18 points to Cornell’s three.
Cornell was led by junior Terrance McBride who scored a career-high 17 points, shooting 7-for-13 from the field. Jimmy Boeheim returned from injury with 14 points but struggled most of the night. He hit a pair of early threes but stayed quiet until the final few minutes. It wasn’t until then when he had good looks underneath the basket.
Early on, the Big Red got good looks that just weren’t falling. Their offense in the second half was a lot more flat, with a lack of motion. Cornell had just nine assists, and that isn’t like them at all. The Big Red love to keep the ball hopping.
And that’s exactly what Columbia did. The Lions were moving around the court and beating the Big Red every time in transition and registered 14 assists. They had great looks and never failed to cash in on them.
Cornell was lucky to stay in the game for as long as it did. Excessive fouls by the Lions in the first half. Cornell was 16-for-19 from the charity stripe.
The three-point struggles were back for Cornell, which shot just 5-for-25 from long range. That’s not nearly high enough to compete, especially when the Lions are shooting 44% from deep.
In just a week, the two teams meet again but instead at Newman Arena.
To split the season series with Columbia, the Big Red need to be moving more on offense. They need less guys standing around in corners and have to get all five guys involved. They need more looks closer to the basket, and only have their best shooters looking for three-point shots (Boeheim, McBride, Jordan Jones, Dean Noll).
The Lions need to rebound the ball a bit better if they want to go 2-0 against Cornell and have a major advantage in the race for Ivy Madness. They only snared five offensive rebounds to Cornell’s 13 and need better positioning.
Game time is scheduled for 4 p.m. on ESPN+. Tip-off may be later if the women’s game runs long. (In case you missed it, the Columbia ladies knocked off Cornell, 76-66, a few hours earlier.)