The men’s basketball team suffered a heartbreaking loss in its second game of the season Tuesday night, blowing a last-minute lead to the visiting Manhattan Jaspers.
Columbia (1-1) started strong, but was down by three at halftime following a Manhattan (2-0) resurgence. The two teams were neck-and-neck for much of the second half, setting up a thrilling finish. The Lions seemingly had the game in the bag with a three-point lead and less than 20 seconds to play, but an unlikely sequence of plays left Manhattan on top, 71-70, as the final buzzer sounded.
“Our guys fought pretty hard to get back, get that lead. Had a chance to win. Would like to think we should have won,” Columbia head coach Kyle Smith said. “But we didn’t.”
The Lions came out of the gate strong, reeling off an 8-0 run to start the game, thanks in part to a pair of baskets by junior center Cory Osetkowksi.
After maintaining a healthy lead for most of the first 10 minutes, Columbia allowed the Jaspers to make a run midway through the first half. Lions sophomore guard Isaac Cohen fouled Manhattan guard and forward George Beamon on a three point attempt, and Beamon hit two of three to cut the Lions’ lead to 18-15.
Beamon brought the Jaspers within two with 2:58 to go, and two more Beamon free throws tied the game with just over two minutes to play. On the next possession Beamon hit a deep three to give the Jaspers their first lead of the game, 35-32. The senior was huge for Manhattan all night, finishing with 28 points.
“He’s an electric scorer,” Smith said of Beamon, noting that the 6-foot-4 star was probably the biggest difference between this year’s Jaspers squad and the one that lost to Columbia 69-58 a year ago.
Manhattan forward Shane Richards’ fifth three of the half gave the Jaspers a 38-33 lead, before a layup by sophomore guard Maodo Lo made it 38-35 going into the intermission. Lo’s basket capped off a sloppy half in which the two teams combined for 28 fouls. The clumsiness continued for the rest of the game, as the foul total reached 57 by the end of the game.
Both teams got off to slow starts offensively in the second half, combining for only 16 points in the first eight minutes.
The game started to heat up with just over 11 minutes to play. The Lions knotted it at 46-46 when sophomore guard Grant Mullins nailed a long straightaway three, but Manhattan responded with a three of its own to go back up 49-46. Manhattan led by as many as four before a pair of Mullins free throws evened the score at 55-55 with five and a half minutes left.
Mullins continued to carry the Light Blue down the stretch. With Manhattan up 64-60, Mullins hit a huge three to bring the home team back within one with less than two minutes to go. The Lions soon evened the score once again, and after the Jaspers went up 67-65, Mullins hit another clutch three to put the Lions up by one, 68-67.
“The coaches give me confidence. They want me to take those kinds of shots,” said Mullins, who finished with 23 points to lead the team. “So if they’re confident in me, my team’s confident in me, then it instills a lot of confidence in myself.”
The Jaspers failed to score on their next possession, and Mullins hit both free throws after being fouled to put Columbia up by three, 70-67, with 17.2 seconds to play.
Manhattan made it interesting, sending guard Michael Alvarado to the line for three free throws following a Lo foul. Alvarado missed the first, seemingly sealing the win for Columbia.
But after he made the second, the Jaspers corralled the rebound, and Beamon evened the score at 70-70 by hitting a shot and drawing a foul for an and-one. He hit the free throw as well, sealing the 71-70 victory for Manhattan.
The unlikely win was Manhattan’s second straight nailbiter to open up the 2013-14 campaign. Over the weekend, the Jaspers won their season opener at La Salle in double overtime, 99-90.
“We just didn’t get enough suspense in Philly in double overtime, so we said, ‘Let’s try to make this game as interesting as we could,’” Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello said. “And we did.”