A road sweep for Columbia breaks a seven-year streak

With nine seconds left, Kyle Castlin was suddenly all by himself.

Isaac Cohen had flung a floating touch pass, a perfectly weighted through ball that would make the likes of Mesut Ozil proud, over the pressing defense of the desperate Yale Bulldogs. Castlin, breaking away from his man, hauled in the pass in stride, nothing but an empty basket ahead of him.

The freshman rose up and put down a two-handed slam, sending a disappointed crowd of 1,900 out into snowy New Haven. The small clique of Lions fans behind the bench went nuts as Kyle Smith let out a celebratory fist pump, Castlin’s dunk providing the exclamation point on a weekend to remember for Columbia.

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Rosenberg = Durant: On evolving expectations

Kevin Durant

Results are not the driving factor in fan happiness. Results in relation to expectations are.

For example, many Sixers fans are incredibly optimistic about the future despite the team’s putrid results on the court for a second straight year because they understand the front office’s plan and see a light at the end of the tunnel. Oklahoma City Thunder fans expected their team to compete for a championship before the season, but everything changed once Kevin Durant suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot and Russell Westbrook broke his hand on opening night. At 29-25, the Thunder are finally healthy and have an opportunity to reach the lofty goal but will face an uphill battle come playoff time. As a fan of the team, it would be understandable if a full-strength Thunder team got knocked out by the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. Had you told me this was the likely scenario in August, I would have been irate.

All of this brings me to the constantly shifting expectations and the ensuing questions raised by the 2014-15 Columbia Lions.

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Six seconds of glory for Columbia’s Jeff Coby

Jeff Coby's glory lasted a precious six seconds at Lavietes Pavilion this weekend.
Jeff Coby’s glory lasted a precious six seconds at Lavietes Pavilion this weekend.

For six beautiful seconds, it was the biggest shot of Jeff Coby’s life.

The sophomore forward from Florida doesn’t have the traditional build of a three-point shooter. He’s 6-foot-9, a prototypical power forward who attempted just three shots from long-range his freshman season. As most Kyle Smith players are required to do, Coby added a three-point shot during the offseason, hitting a respectable 10 of 32 so far during this campaign.

None, though, were quite as important as that 10th shot. In the sauna that is Lavietes Pavilion in Cambridge, the 10th shot arced through the air after a brilliant feed from Maodo Lo found Coby all by himself, the clock running down, and the Lions needing a three to complete a brilliant second half comeback against a Harvard team that led by 17 at halftime.

It went in. The Columbia corner of the gym exploded. For six seconds, Coby was the hero.

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The test is yet to come for Columbia

Maodo Lo 4
Maodo Lo notched 16 points in Columbia’s 83-56 rout of the Quakers Saturday night.

NEW YORK – Last night had the feeling of a bigger game than it actually was. Levien Gymnasium was sold out and deafening as Columbia rained down three-pointers against an easily relenting Penn defense. Press row was as packed as I have seen it since Columbia played against Harvard the last few years or Cornell in 2010 –  as in, against teams that went on to win the Ivy League, not one looking to avoid the cellar. Columbia could not have drawn up a better game, and every adjustment Penn attempted was met with a barrage of Lions three-pointers that actually went in, unlike in their previous struggles in their home gym. Unfortunately for Columbia this led to an all too common refrain from their fans: Where has this been the last two weeks?

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Columbia Weekend Recap: Hosting Yale and Brown

NEW YORK – On Friday night, Maodo Lo showed his class.

Unfortunately, the rest of his teammates didn’t show up until Saturday.

The Columbia Lions fell to Yale in a heartbreaker, 63-59, on Friday night, as Lo put up 20 points on 6-for-8 shooting from long range but didn’t get much help from the rest of the squad. The full team came to play on Saturday, using a late 22-4 run to blow the Brown Bears out of the building, 86-65. It was Columbia’s largest margin of win in Ivy play in 11 years, but that’s little consolation for the disappointing loss on Friday night.

After four games, the Lions are 2-2 in Ivy play.

Let’s run through some of the major observations of the weekend…

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Columbia vs. Cornell: The pain of press row

Levien

NEW YORK – There was a moment, in the second half of Columbia’s massively disappointing loss to Cornell, where all felt hopeless. The Big Red had stretched their lead to some new high — was it 11 points? 13? — and their bench roared with jubilation after each bucket. The Columbia faithful, a sellout 2,715 people packed so tightly into Levien that the gym was approaching “call the fire marshal” status, began to grow quiet, one or two or 20 beginning to slink meekly down the bleachers and then back up onto campus, covered in a coat of gloppy wet snow.

Harvard had lost earlier in the day, as I found to my shock and glee on a random scroll through Twitter during the women’s game. (That, too, a disappointing loss for the Light Blue.) Yale had been scared senseless by Brown at home. The mantle of the Ivy League was right there for Columbia to grab, just two games into the season, in front of the largest crowd seen in Levien since before the 2010-11 season. And the Lions let it slip away.

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The good, the bad & the ugly: Columbia 48, Cornell 45

THE GOOD: Null.

By any objective standards, this was a horrific basketball game. Columbia averaged a whopping 0.76 points per possession and Cornell kept pace at 0.71. Despite never leading in the game, Cornell had a great shot to win given a flurry of Columbia miscues down the stretch (see below). Columbia turned the ball over 23 times, Cornell shot 25.9 percent from the field as a team, and everyone on both sides likely wants to focus all of their attention towards Saturday’s rematch in Morningside Heights rather than the game tape of yesterday’s “masterpiece.”

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Lions must be able to win without Maodo

“We had a saying: everybody has to guard Lo.”

That’s how Carson Puriefoy described Stony Brook’s game plan against Columbia Tuesday night, when the two sides met in a Morningside Heights rematch.

It is fair to say the Seawolves executed that plan to near perfection, holding Lo to a season-low seven points on just 2-for-9 shooting; his first bucket didn’t fall until less than four minutes remained in the game. Puriefoy shouldered most of the load in stopping the Lions’ star guard, though he was consistently helped with double-teams and other defensive tactics which prohibited Lo from driving or getting clean looks from three.

The Lions fell, 70-61, and dropped to 7-6 on the season, with just a matchup against D-II Central Pennsylvania before Ivy play kicks off with a home-and-home against travel partner Cornell.

The game offered a blueprint to anyone trying to shut down Columbia this year.

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