In many people's books, the men's basketball team should be two games out of the Ivy lead.
The Lions (15-10, 4-4 Ivy) were a controversial charging call away from upsetting Harvard (20-4, 7-1 Ivy) on Friday night, which, after Saturday's 69-59 win against Dartmouth, would have lifted Columbia into third in the conference standings behind the Crimson and Yale. Instead, the Light Blue sits in fourth place eight games into its Ancient Eight slate.
“Like I told the team, it'll be posted that we're 4-4,” Columbia head coach Kyle Smith said. “But I got us at 5-3.”
Though the game turned into a double-overtime thriller, things were not looking good for Columbia at Levien midway through the second half, as the Lions trailed the two-time defending Ivy champion Crimson by 12 with 10:52 to go.
But behind junior forward Alex Rosenberg—who finished with 34 points, three shy of Columbia's Levien record—and sophomore guard Maodo Lo, the Lions clawed their way back.
Lo made a couple of big plays and then with 3:31 to go, Rosenberg drilled a three to make it 62-60 as the crowd exploded.
The Light Blue managed to tie the game and even got ahead briefly, but after a tense final stretch, Lo couldn't get the game-winner to go, and the score stood at 68-68 at the end of regulation.
“He's a good one-on-one player,” Smith said of Lo, who scored 20 points, after the game. “I thought it was a good chance—he actually said he got hit, I haven't seen it, we'll see—but you know, they got a kind whistle the next ending, so it would have been nice if we got that chance to win it.”
The game went into overtime following Lo's miss, and Rosenberg was a central figure in the extra period.
He nailed a critical fall-away jumper as the shot clock expired to put the Lions up 71-70, but neither team could stay ahead for long. With 18.9 seconds left and the scored tied at 73, Columbia had the ball for what could have been its last possession and turned to Rosenberg.
For a fleeting moment, it looked like he would be the hero after hitting a go-ahead leaner with 2.3 seconds left. The crowd roared—but the shot was called back following a questionable offensive-foul call.
“I just kind of tried to make a play, clock was winding down,” Rosenberg said. “I'm glad it went in. I didn't expect a charge to be called, but at the same time I'm not the one making the calls.”
The game headed to a second overtime amid a storm of boos from Columbia fans, and this time the Lions couldn't hold Harvard back. Guard Laurent Rivard—who drew the charge on Rosenberg at the end of the first overtime—hit a three to put the Crimson up 82-77 with 59 seconds remaining, and after a busy final minute, Harvard came away with the win, 88-84.
The following night against Dartmouth (9-13, 2-6 Ivy), things looked dicey for the Lions in the early going as Dartmouth guard Alex Mitola—who scored a combined 38 points in the Big Green's two wins against Columbia last season—got off to a hot start. But the Lions managed to rally, taking control in the second half after a tightly contested first 20 minutes.
“Mitola's been the Lion killer, and we let him get off to a 3-for-3 start,” Smith said. “We didn't hang our heads and go, Here we go again.' We stayed the course—we yelled a little bit, and I broke a clipboard—and then from then on Maodo ... did a really good job on him.”
Lo managed to prevent Mitola from being a major force in the game—he had only four points the rest of the way—by taking away his primary weapon, the three-point shot.
“I was just trying to sit on him and fight through all the screens,” Lo said. “Chase him off the three-point line, make him shoot twos—and it worked out in the second half better than in the first half.”
Despite Mitola's hot shooting from beyond the arc in the early going, neither team led by more than two until a pair of free throws by Dartmouth forward John Golden gave the Big Green a 24-20 advantage with 6:40 to play in the first half.
But the Lions quickly struck back, and after a heads-up play by first-year forward Jeff Coby—who got an easy basket after grabbing his own rebound off a missed free throw—Columbia went into the break up 31-30.
The Lions came out strong to start the second half and kept pushing, going up by 12 with less than 10 minutes to go in the game. Despite some pressure from Dartmouth, Columbia maintained a comfortable lead the rest of the way.
“I thought we executed well until about the eight-minute mark, and they brought another little whammy at us,” Smith said. “We hung in there, and made our free throws, and got the W.”
With the win over Dartmouth, the Lions matched last season's Ivy win total.
Columbia will be back in action against Brown and Yale this weekend.
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