Ancient Eight thoughts – Ivy Friday men’s edition

Eight thoughts on the men’s side:

1. Columbia was due

Columbia hadn’t won an Ivy road game since its very first under Jim Engles at Cornell on Jan. 14, 2017: 17 such games ago. The Lions were 3-8 in games decided by one possession this season, including a 72-70 loss to Penn at Levien Gym three weeks prior, and were 4-20 in games decided by six points or fewer dating back to the start of last season. So when Maka Ellis’s stunningly easy layup off an inbound pass went in with 0.4 seconds left in overtime to clinch the 79-77 win for the Lions at the Palestra, it was a long overdue coup de grâce for a program that had long been far more competitive under Engles than its win-loss column showed. Kudos to Gabe Stefanini for coming up just two rebounds shy of a triple-double (20 points, 10 assists, eight boards) and Ellis for pitching in five of his 14 points in the final 1:24 in overtime as a rookie on the road to erase Penn’s 77-72 lead at that point.

2. Penn’s not through 

… Yet. Penn can still conceivably get to 7-7 in Ivy play by winning four of its final five, most critically its matchup tonight against Cornell a Friday night faceoff with Yale at the Palestra that could very well hand the second tiebreaker (win over highest seed) currently in Cornell’s possession over to Penn. But that’s not likely to happen given the way Penn is playing defense: the Red & Blue led the Ivy League in three-point defense in conference play during its Ivy title run last season. This season, it’s last in the conference, and it also allowed too many good looks inside to a Lions team that doesn’t excel at scoring from two-point range: Columbia shot 60.5 percent from that range at the Palestra.

3. Brown was due too

The Bears hadn’t bested Harvard since Mar. 6, 2009, when Matt Mullery paced them with 21 points and 20 rebounds in a win against the Crimson that came in Jesse Agel’s first season at the helm in Providence. Now Mike Martin has finally bested Tommy Amaker head-to-head thanks to what Martin acknowledged on Inside Ivy Hoops earlier in the week had been missing in every game but one (ironically a 92-82 loss to Penn) during Ivy play: offensive firepower. Desmond Cambridge, who had previously missed 52 of his first 62 shots in league play, exploded out of his shooting doldrums with an electrifying 30 points on 11-for-21 shooting in 33 minutes, in addition to four blocks and three steals at the other end of the floor. Despite him fighting the flu, that is the Desmond Cambridge that can still bring 4-5 Bruno to the Ivy League Tournament. When you factor in defensive stalwart Obi Okolie and the highly efficient, board-crashing Tamenang Choh, the talent is absolutely there for a run to the Ivy tourney. With Dartmouth awaiting tonight, the momentum is suddenly there too.

4. Without Bassey, Harvard’s blue

An injury early in the game rendered Justin Bassey ineffective in just 15 minutes against the Bears, allowing Cambridge – who Bassey had shut down as a defender in their previous meeting – to go off on Harvard. The Crimson also lost without Bassey in the lineup at home to Cornell two weekends ago, and that’s no coincidence. A junior, Bassey has long been one of the league’s greatest defenders, and his 6-for-8 shooting from long range helped lift Harvard past Penn at the Palestra last Saturday night, the latest example that he can be a dynamic scorer when called upon (Harvard’s NIT loss to Marquette last season comes to mind). It’d be great for Harvard if it had Justin Bassey to guard Miye Oni in New Haven tonight. If not, watch out.

5. Yale winning in Ivy play, what’s new?

With their 77-59 win over Dartmouth at home, the Elis at 8-1 clinched a winning record in Ivy play, and they’ve suffered just two losing seasons in 20 years under coach James Jones: 2010 and 2000, the latter Jones’s first season as head coach and the only year Yale has missed out on the Ivy’s top four with Jones at the helm. All you have to do to appreciate how impressive that consistency is is reflect on how hard the variance that comes with league-wide parity has hit Penn thus far in Ivy play this season. Yale’s doing it this year with a more uptempo squad that’s relying less on the three than it did in league action a season ago, and the Bulldogs converted an eye-popping 67.4 percent of their two-point shots against the Big Green, including an 11-for-12 outing from the always dangerous Alex Copeland.

6. Dartmouth to variance: “How do you do?”

Coming off its win over Boston University back in December, Dartmouth ranked ninth nationally in three-point percentage, shooting nearly nine percentage points higher than it did in Ivy play a season ago. But the Big Green rank just fourth in the conference in three-point shooting in league play so far, going cold from deep in pivotal losses to Brown and Penn and again last night at Yale, making just four of 18 attempts.

7. What can Schwieger do for you? 

Sophomore Ryan Schwieger enjoyed a career night in Princeton’s 68-59 win over Cornell to claim third place in the Ivy standings, claiming his second KenPom game MVP award (the first came in the Tigers’ win at Columbia) with a career-high 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting in 36 minutes against the Big Red, as Devin Cannady sat out due to a personal matter, per the Princetonian. Schwieger has played 80 minutes against Cornell in both matchups with the Big Red and 37 in Princeton’s other seven Ivy contests. Myles Stephens did little offensively against the Big Red last night but helped keep Matt Morgan under control, going a long way toward holding him to 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting in 35 minutes. Princeton held a 54-36 lead with 13:04 to go and hung on even after a 23-7 Big Red run in the next 8:14 closed the Tigers’ lead to 61-59. But Cornell didn’t score in the final 4:50, mostly held to two-point and three-point jumpers that didn’t fall. Princeton’s defense has surprisingly been the Ivy’s best during league play after hemorrhaging points to the likes of Fairleigh Dickinson in nonconference action. Stephens sets the tone, but it’s obviously a team effort.

8. A golden opportunity without further adieu 

Two of Cornell’s next three games are at Penn and Brown, the Big Red’s main competition for the No. 4 seed in the Ivy tourney at this point. They’re away from Newman Arena, but at least Cornell has beaten them both once already. In a mismatch that would have been unfathomable before the season started (and arguably even just before Ivy play), Cornell’s offense could be a bit much for Penn’s defense to handle, particularly from beyond the arc. If the Big Red can get to the foul line with their customary frequency and force Penn into turnovers as it did when these teams squared off in Ithaca earlier this month, Penn might very well drop a third straight game at the Palestra.