In the first half of its game against Dartmouth, the Columbia men’s basketball team was only able to put up 15 points, its lowest point total in a single half this season. This lack of offensive production plagued the Light Blue (9-15, 3-7 Ivy) all weekend, resulting in back-to-back losses to the lowly Big Green (5-19, 1-9 Ivy), 48-44, and to Harvard (18-6, 7-3 Ivy), 77-57.
From the beginning of their matchup with Dartmouth on Friday, the Lions were sluggish, failing to score a single point in the first nine minutes of action. With 10:29 to play in the first half, a 3-pointer by senior guard Niko Scott, ended the Big Green’s 9-0 run and finally got Columbia on the board. By the end of the half, the Light Blue had managed to cut the lead to two, as Dartmouth took a 17-15 lead into the locker room.
In that first half, the Lions shot a paltry 25 percent from the field, and an even less impressive 10 percent from long range. Fortunately for the Light Blue, the Big Green struggled offensively as well, shooting only 33.3 percent from the floor, keeping the game close. However, Dartmouth did hold an advantage on the boards, out-rebounding Columbia 22-15 in the first half.
The Big Green expanded its lead to as many as nine in the second half, leading 37-28 with 9:48 left to play. However, after a 16-7 run by the Lions, capped by a jumper by junior forward Brian Grimes, the game was tied at 44 with 2:42 left. Despite several attempts, the Light Blue was unable to complete the comeback though, falling 48-44, and giving the Big Green its first conference win of the season.
The Lions shot a little better in the second half, but still finished with a lackluster shooting percentage, making only 31 percent of their shots, and only 8.7 percent of their 3-pointers.
“We were awful,” Columbia head coach Joe Jones said after the game. “We played poorly. I thought we had some decent shots—we didn’t make them. I just thought we didn’t play well offensively at all. ... I got to take responsibility for my team’s performance tonight, and we did not play well.”
The Light Blue was led by junior forward Asenso Ampim, who had 10 points in just 20 minutes of play. Ampim, who has been limited recently due to injury, went down hard after fouling Dartmouth’s Robby Pride, and took a while getting up. Though he managed to come back into the game a little later, Ampim acknowledged that he was not playing at his full capacity.
“I tried to do what I normally do, but my body is kind of limiting me, but I gave it all I could,” Ampim said after the loss.
Sophomore guard Noruwa Agho, normally an offensive force for the Light Blue, made only two of his 12 shots, notching just seven points in the loss. Scott, who just posted a career-high 29 points in Columbia’s last game against Penn, also struggled, putting up only seven points.
“It came down to getting stops and being able to put the ball in the hole and tonight it just didn’t go well for us,” Scott said after the game. “Sometimes we just have these nights where it seems impossible to make shots that we are consistently making. We realize that we have to play with more urgency throughout the entire game, not just at the end when the game is really close.”
The next night, the Lions had the difficult task of trying to turn their weekend around, against the Crimson, which is currently third in the Ancient Eight standings. At first it seemed like the Light Blue had a shot at the upset, as a 3-pointer by Agho put Columbia up 10-9, with just under 15 minutes to play in the first half. However, a 15-0 run, sparked by eight straight points by Harvard’s Oliver McNally, gave the Crimson a commanding 24-10 lead, with over eight minutes to play before intermission.
Harvard continued to expand its lead, heading into the locker room with a 19-point cushion. The 45-26 lead at the half was due in large part to an astounding offensive performance by McNally, who had 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting in the first 20 minutes. 12 of his 20 points came from beyond the arc, as McNally nailed four of his five 3-point attempts.
“I think we gave him some open looks—not to take anything away from him, he’s a great player,” Agho said after the game. “We can’t have any lapses, and we got to take care of every little thing, because that makes the difference. Maybe he doesn’t make that first three and then he doesn’t shoot the rest of them.”
Despite its defensive lapses in the first half, Columbia came out ready to play in the second half. Though the Lions’ field goal percentage improved only from 38.1 in the first half, to 39.4 in the second, their defense improved tremendously, allowing the Crimson to make only 43.5 percent of its shots after shooting 55.6 percent before halftime.
“I thought in the second half we showed a lot of fight, guys came out and played with a lot of pride, tried to do some things that we’ve been talking about doing on both ends of the floor, and I thought we put together a better half,” Jones said.
It wasn’t enough though, as Columbia lost its second straight game, 77-57.
When asked about his team’s offensive woes, Jones stressed that the Light Blue must have better ball movement, and must be more patient with the shots it takes.
“We just need to learn how to move the ball better, and search out better shots,” Jones said. “I think at times when we struggle, we tend to take quick ones early, and then we miss them.”
The loss dropped the Lions to 3-7 in conference play, its worst Ivy record through the first ten games since the 2005-06 season. For a season that started off so promsing, the Light Blue’s current standing can only be described as disappointing. Though Columbia has had to deal with injuries to key players throughout the season, including senior point guard Patrick Foley, who has been out with a shoulder injury since Jan. 29, Jones refuses to make excuses for the way the team is playing.
“If we’re not getting it done, I got to take responsibility for that, I’ve got to do a better job with my program,” Jones said. “At this time of year, we should be playing a better brand of basketball. Going into the weekend, I felt like we were further along and we didn’t show it today, this weekend.”
Agho, who turned in a more typical performance against Harvard, leading his team with 18 points on 5-for-13 shooting, admitted that the team still needs to find its rhythm.
“We’re still really trying to find—I know it sounds weird, there’s only four games left—but we’re still trying to find ourselves, and really trying to find out how we can make this work,” Agho said.
If the Lions can find themselves before their matchups against Penn and Princeton next weekend, they have a shot at salvaging the season with a .500 record.