Two weeks ago, at Princeton, sophomore guard Grant Mullins collided with a Tiger and hit his head on the floor. He left the game, was held out of the following night’s contest at Penn, and after playing 44 minutes against Harvard on Friday, was limited to just 12 on Saturday against Dartmouth.
“Whether it was the injury before, or just flat fatigue, he wasn’t physically ready to help us out with Dartmouth,” Smith said. “He’s still a little banged up. He still needs to rest.”
Mullins, up to that point, had started every game for the Lions, along with fellow sophomore guards Maodo Lo and Isaac Cohen. Their health earlier in the season was especially important with junior guards Meiko Lyles and Steve Frankoski still not in top form. Lyles was returning after taking a year off from school, while Frankoski was sporting a cast on his wrist through early December.
Now Lyles and Frankoski are helping to soften the blow of Mullins’ injury.
At Princeton, Lyles hit the game-winning three in addition to his usual good defense. He scored a season-high 11 points the following night at Penn and played a combined 57 minutes last weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth, even being trusted with guarding Ivy Player of the Year candidate Wesley Saunders in overtime on Friday night.
“The bigger the fight, the better he is, a lot of times,” Smith said of Lyles. “He made some big-time winning plays in the Harvard games. He’s just physically tough. He’ll give you everything.”
Frankoski, for his part, made a difference against Dartmouth. With Columbia up by six, he knocked down a three—his first points against a Division I opponent this season—that launched an 8-0 run, helping the Lions separate from the Big Green.
“If anyone had a reason to pout or hang their head, it’d be him, and he hasn’t,” Smith said of Frankoski, the team captain. “He made the three, but the two biggest plays in the Dartmouth game were just hustle plays.”
Late in the first half, with Columbia down by one, first-year forward Jeff Coby missed a free throw. But Frankoski tipped the rebound to Coby, open under the basket, who scored a layup. And with 3:32 left to go in the second half and Columbia up eight, Frankoski tipped a rebound past Big Green guard Alex Mitola and ran down the floor for an uncontested layup.
“That’s what these Ivy League games come down to—just one or two of those plays which you gotta make,” Smith said. “It was great to see him do that.”
With Mullins’ status still in question for this weekend’s games against Brown and Yale, and a green frontcourt not quite able to effectively face top Ivy forwards, Lyles and Frankoski’s contributions will go a long way toward determining whether the Lions are still in the race for the Ivy title on Monday.