Following an early conference win against Harvard and a late February victory over Penn, the Columbia men’s basketball team was poised to secure the last spot in the inaugural Ivy Tournament. After two road losses to Brown and Yale on the season’s final weekend, the Lions missed the tournament, ending up in fifth place with a 5-9 conference record (11-16 overall). In Jim Engles’ second season in charge, he will focus on the positives from last season and his first recruiting class to reach this year’s postseason tournament.
What a long, strange trip it’s been …
@IvyLeagueNet Thanks, Harvard was great in Shanghai
— Bill Walton (@BillWalton) November 14, 2016
This has been a crazy season for Ivy League basketball, all 16 weeks of it. From Harvard’s starting the season 14 hours away in Shanghai to Penn’s regular season-ending triumph over the Crimson Saturday night, this season has been full of surprises and unusual trends.
With that being said, I do want to raise one quick issue about the Ivy League Tournament. I will still gripe that it should be just three teams, but if that had been the case going into tonight, we would have been robbed of a pretty fantastic moment.
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.
At the midway(ish) point of Ivy play, Columbia stands at 4-2, good enough for third place when factoring in its win over Harvard.
This weekend, the Lions experience their first full Ivy road weekend of the season, beginning with a Penn squad desperate for its first Ivy win and a tilt at first-place Princeton, hoping to avoid their first loss. With all of that in mind, I spoke with Columbia coach Jim Engles this week to talk about the weekend ahead and the adjustments the team has made and still needs to make this season.
Ivy Hoops Online: With Penn winless and Princeton undefeated, how hard is it to keep the players from overlooking Penn and just focusing on the Saturday game?
That familiar feeling was back again.
Like when Yale came back from 21 down in the second half against the Lions in 2012, the “Cannady Collapse” against Princeton last year, the entire 2013 Ivy run, and in half of the Lions’ home Ivy games already this year, a great first half was being wasted by a second-half meltdown. But like last Saturday night’s win over Harvard, the Lions steadied their nerve down the stretch and move solidly into third as their schedule turns from friendly confines to other, above-ground Ivy gyms.
At first, the game was sloppy. Then it became a rout.
Then came a furious comeback followed by something still more unexpected.
Saturday night’s Harvard-Columbia game at Levien Gym was setting up to be the stereotypical season-crushing loss we’ve seen from the Lions over and over again the past few seasons. With the Lions possessing the ball and a three-point lead with time running down, freshman point guard Mike Smith drove to the basket and missed. Jeff Coby saved the rebound to Luke Petrasek with nine seconds left, leading to him dribbling out the clock for a Lions victory heaving a 28-foot three-pointer because the shot clock was inexplicably showing two seconds. His miss was rebounded by Siyani Chambers, who put up a good look at a three-pointer to send the game to overtime. The predictable result would have been the three dropping through the net and a stunned Columbia team folding in overtime.
Our Ivy weekend roundup features a raucous rematch, some Red and Crimson splitting, a No. 4 stepping to the fore and late-game strategy deja vu.
One could quite easily make the case that the five most important people to Columbia’s 2015-16 10-4 Ivy season and CIT title run are no longer with the team. Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg are overseas. Twitterless Grant Mullins is on the left coast, so is San Francisco head coach Kyle Smith, and Isaac Cohen is in the professional world. It would have been easy to expect a team that lost that degree of experience and their coach to struggle immensely implementing into a new season. But thanks to a strong freshman class, an affable guard with a knack for clutch shots, and a big man who leads the team in scoring, the Lions expect to make some noise in this new Ivy basketball world.