Updated Feb. 21 at 12:20 a.m.
The men's basketball team (16-10, 5-4 Ivy) hit the court Friday night against Brown (13-10, 5-4 Ivy) coming off consecutive weekend splits. In order to put themselves back on the right side of .500 in the Ivy League, the Lions needed to notch a win in Levien against the third-place Bears. They did just that, getting a pair of clutch free throws to pull out the win, 70-68.
The win came with sophomore guard Grant Mullins out of the lineup. Although Mullins played last weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth—albeit in limited minutes—Light Blue head coach Kyle Smith said Mullins was still not fully healthy. His absence opened up an opportunity for junior guard Meiko Lyles.
“He does two things really well: He defends and he bangs threes,” Smith said. “And he's grown into a good rebounder this year.”
Lyles was on his game against the Bears, going 8-for-10 from the field—including 5-for-5 from downtown—and finished the game with 21 points. Only junior forward Alex Rosenberg, who led all players with 23, scored more points.
Lyles, who played a game-high 35 minutes, credited his team's ability to penetrate for his night's success.
“It was one of those nights,” he said. “My teammates found me. They [the Bears] were really converging on the penetration, so a lot of shots were available tonight.”
The first half opened up with hot shooting from the Bears. Brown slowly increased its lead to as much as 11 on consistent mid-range shooting and solid interior post work from forward Cedric Kuakumensah. Smith said he makes sure his team is always aware of where the 6-foot-8 reigning Defensive Player of the Year is, especially because he tends to play beyond his norm against the Lions.
“Kuakumensah is awesome against us,” Smith said. “He's a career 37 percent shooter and he just drills jumpers against us like it's nothing.”
As the half progressed, the Light Blue was able to slowly narrow the gap, and even gained the lead near the end of the period. The closely contested half ended with Brown having a narrow edge, 37-36.
The second half opened up with the Bears and the Lions trading baskets again, neither team able to gain any sizable advantage. The teams took turns holding the lead, with most of Brown's second-half offense coming from All-Ivy guard Sean McGonagill, who began heating up as the period progressed.
“He has pretty much everything. He can drive left, right, or he can pull up. He can catch and shoot,” Lyles said. “It's a team effort to try to contain him.”
With three minutes remaining, some words were exchanged between first-year forward Jeff Coby and Kuakumensah, which resulted in a double-technical. This led to Kuakumensah getting relegated to the bench, leaving a huge defensive gap in the post for the Bears.
The teams kept it close down to the very end, and in the last couple of minutes, Columbia and Brown were back and forth. With the game tied and under a minute remaining, the Bears fouled sophomore guard Maodo Lo on a scrap for a loose ball, sending him to the line for a one-and-one. Lo, who finished with 15 points, proved himself to be clutch, knocking down both crucial shots from the stripe and giving the Lions a two-point advantage.
With only a few seconds left, a well-defended McGonagill chucked up a high-arching airball fadeaway from 25 feet, and the Light Blue emerged victorious again in Levien.
Although he said that it means a lot for Columbia to have won two in a row after its tough loss to Harvard and that he is happy with his team, he said he still expects more.
“This should be a confidence booster,” Smith said. “Hopefully we can build on it because we're still not satisfied.”
The Lions are back on the court Sunday, when they host league leader Yale at 1:30 p.m. in Levien.
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