On Friday night, Columbia and Harvard played an instant classic in Levien. The Lions played the league leaders tight through the first half, but a Crimson run put the Light Blue at a 12-point disadvantage with just under seven minutes left to play.
Many in the building had given up hope, but junior forward Alex Rosenberg and sophomore guard Maodo Lo put the team on their collective backs. The Lions came roaring back and tied the game, and the sellout crowd stayed on its feet for the final five minutes of regulation, making enough noise to rival a Big East school.
A nifty drive and shot from Lo as time expired clanged off the front and back of the rim to send it into overtime.
Overtime, too, came down to the final shot—with the stands shaking, Rosenberg drove into the lane and banked a 12-foot jumper into the hoop to give the Lions the win with two seconds left to go. The crowd erupted. The Crimson was vanquished.
In the commotion, one of the referees began gesticulating wildly. He called an offensive foul on Rosenberg, negating the basket and handing the ball to Harvard. Light Blue head coach Kyle Smith fell from an ecstatic jump of happiness to an incredulous pose, hands on his head in shock. The crowd went nuts, raining chants of “BULL-SHIT” down on the zebras.
The second overtime was just a formality. The Crimson seized the lead and held on for an 88-84 win, and I slotted a new game into the top position of my mental index called “Worst Columbia Losses, 2010-14.” (Unfortunately, it is a very long index.)
I don’t like to blame referees for losses. It takes away from the incredible efforts of the athletes in the game, and to say that a ref was biased throughout the game is almost always false. Referees, first and foremost, are people too.
There is one huge exception, though. The No. 1 rule of refereeing is never to decide a game with a single call—and that’s exactly what happened on Friday night.
Perhaps I have not made it clear what a wretched excuse for a call this was. The replay certainly makes it look like Harvard’s Laurent Rivard is backing up and moving as Rosenberg makes contact with him, which should be enough to make this a defensive blocking foul. Even more absurdly, the officials had called exactly one offensive foul in the game prior to this pivotal moment. The rules as they are written are not always followed exactly in every game, but they should be enforced consistently within the game itself.
Making that call at that point in the game was nothing more than an official deciding to be the center of attention, and deciding that Columbia should not win.
This call affected more than just one victory. Had Rosenberg’s shot counted, Columbia would be just one game behind Harvard today. Instead, the team sits three games back. It’s the difference between Yale holding sole possession of first place in the league or having to share it with the Crimson. The final half of the Ivy League schedule could have been wildly exciting, but instead, Harvard remains the overwhelming favorite.
What I’m going to remember about this game isn’t Alex Rosenberg having the game of his life, putting up an absurd 34 points and coming up with big shot after big shot. It won’t be Maodo Lo putting up his typical 20 points on silky-smooth shooting. Nor will it be Cory Osetkowski playing a solid game in the post after a disappointing pair of games last weekend. And—as much as I want it to—it won’t be the way that the Columbia crowd, often maligned for having basically no idea what to do at a basketball game in terms of cheering or being loud, spent over half an hour on its feet, making noise and giving the Lions a home-court advantage we don’t usually see.
I’m going to remember three guys wearing black-and-white stripes who concluded, like judges in figure skating, that they should decide the winner of this incredible game. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for a Columbia team that deserves better.
Peter Andrews is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. He is a member of Spectator’s editorial board, head manager emeritus of the Columbia University Marching Band, and a sports broadcaster for WKCR. For Pete’s Sake runs biweekly.