Updated Jan. 19 at 1:15 p.m.
On Saturday night, a packed home gym witnessed the men's basketball team pick up a win in its first Ivy action of the season versus Cornell (1-14, 0-1 Ivy).
With the win, Columbia (12-6, 1-0 Ivy) improved its home record to 9-1. Junior forward Alex Rosenberg led the way for the Lions, putting up 20 points, while sophomore guard Grant Mullins added 19 points and hit 11-of-13 from the free throw line.
“I thought we played really well in a lot of stretches,” Columbia head coach Kyle Smith said. “Expected it to be really competitive. It was, it was physical and I thought we played really well until the last four minutes, when they kind of made a little run and we made a couple mental errors.”
The first half was a tightly contested affair, and Columbia narrowly lead visiting Cornell 29-26 at halftime.
The Lions managed to hold the lead for most of the half, though Cornell was never far behind. In front of a raucous home crowd, Rosenberg headed up the Lions’ offense with 13 points.
While the Light Blue pulled ahead at times, the last five minutes saw Cornell close the gap and even the score on a number of occasions.
But in the final minute of the half, sophomore guard Isaac Cohen was able to grab a rebound and get the ball to fellow sophomore guard Maodo Lo, who hit a layup as Columbia closed out the first period with a narrow lead.
Columbia started off the second half quickly, with five unanswered points in the first two minutes of play. The Lions pulled ahead to 38-28, and then 41-30, as Mullins sunk a three.
Columbia continued to play aggressively on offense, beginning to put some distance between itself and the Big Red. Leading 49-33 eight minutes into the second half, Columbia was able to maintain a double-digit lead for much of the final 20 minutes.
Columbia’s second-half dominance appeared to frustrate Cornell, as the Big Red's play became increasingly sloppy. Cornell guard Robert Hatter picked up his fifth personal foul with 4:08 to go, making him one of three members of Cornell’s backcourt who would end up fouling out.
Columbia was also able to contain Big Red’s leading scorer on the season—guard Nolan Cressler, who averages 16.1 points per game—holding him to just 11 points.
“We did a great job on him, he’s that guy who can get a bunch in a hurry as you saw late in the game,” Smith said.
But Cornell’s increasingly aggressive play allowed the visitors to pull within nine, 63-54, with under two minutes to play. A three by Cornell guard Jake Matthews cut Columbia’s lead even further, as the Lions’ lead shrunk to eight with 1:21 to play. With a minute left, the Lions were ahead by a mere seven, having seen their lead diminish.
Though they had a little bit of trouble with the Big Red's press, the Lions ultimately managed to hold the visitors at bay.
“They played a little bit smaller and quicker,” Mullins said. “I think any team in a league situation desperate like that will put some pressure on you, but I think we handled it pretty well.”
Two missed free throws by Cornell helped Columbia stay ahead, and the Light Blue closed out the 71-61 victory.
“They’re a good team and they play hard,” Rosenberg said. “We’re going to their place next weekend so it’s going to be a tough, tough game, so I think we got to keep working hard in practice.”