In its final contest of 2016, men’s basketball came up short at home against Albany, falling 70-67.
The loss was the Light Blue’s fifth out of its last six games—and third out of five home contests—but the Lions (4-7) kept pace with the Great Danes (8-6) in an evenly matched battle throughout.
The highlight of the game came when junior guard Nate Hickman threw down a mesmerizing slam dunk to tie it up 54-54 with 5:42 left in the game. The 6-foot-4 guard leaped over Albany’s Mike Rowley for a vicious and-one finish—a play which brought his teammates on the bench out of their seats and left head coach Jim Engles surprised at the junior’s remarkable display of athletic ability.
“I was as shocked as anybody—that was unbelievable play,” Engles said of the dunk. “It was a nice aggressive play. That’s something we talk about. Be aggressive, go to the basket, and demand the call.”
Thirteen seconds after Hickman’s high-flying feat, Albany’s David Nichols hit a jumper that gave his team a lead that would carry all the way to the final buzzer.
But before that stretch, the Lions had held impressive leads. They clawed ahead by as much as nine after a dunk from first-year forward Patrick Tape put them up 46-37 at the 13:59 mark, but Albany went on a 12-0 run over the next four minutes to take a 49-46 lead at the 9:56 mark of the second half.
The Lions recaptured the lead with a little over seven minutes remaining in the contest on a pair of free throws from Hickman, but the Great Danes’ Joe Cremo hit his own pair of free throws about a minute later to regain the lead, which Albany did not relinquish from then on.
First-year guard Mike Smith led a comeback bid at the end to nearly knock off the Great Danes. The Burr Ridge, Illinois native hit a layup with 27 seconds left to put the Lions within three and a trey to make it a with three seconds left in regulation, but his efforts fell just shy of pulling out a win as Nichols hit two free throws with a second left on the clock and Columbia was unable to get a shot off.
Smith led the team in scoring and assists on a productive 21-point five assist night. The 5-foot-11 guard went 9-of-12 from the floor in the second-highest scoring effort of his career—the first came when he scored 23 points in a defeat at Seton Hall.
Although the team was unable to capture a victory at home, Engles nonetheless said he felt as though the team demonstrated improvement over the past couple of games.
“Sometimes you make your own luck. Sometimes you’re on the good end of it and sometimes you’re on the bad end of it,” he said. “I thought we played pretty well and I was happy with the way we played.”
The Light Blue will travel to Maine next, looking to snap a two-game skid in a game against the Black Bears on Monday. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.