A win against Cornell on Saturday is the primary goal for the Lions after falling to Penn and Princeton in last weekend's two conference-openers
Last in the Ivy League having dropped its first two conference matches at home, the Columbia men’s basketball team (11-7, 0-2 Ivy) needs a win on Saturday when it takes on Cornell (6-10, 1-1 Ivy).
Saturday’s match will be the Lions’ last home game for three weeks and their prime opportunity to turn around what has been a disappointing start to Ivy League play so far.
Last weekend’s losses to Penn and Princeton hit Columbia especially hard, as the Lions had entered the weekend having won 11 of their last 12 games.
“It’s great to get that situation where we’re starting to play with expectations of ourselves,” head coach Kyle Smith said. “We’re battling history a little bit. We’ve got to just keep plugging and get better.”
The Light Blue’s 62-58 defeat by Princeton on Saturday was eerily similar to the previous night’s 66-64 conference-opening loss to Penn. In both games, the Lions let a slim halftime lead slip away in the second period, and despite last minute comebacks, they were unable to overcome the deficits.
Junior guard Brian Barbour led the charge against the Tigers and the Quakers with a game-high 25 points in both contests, but Barbour’s last-minute heroics were not enough to take the win.
Smith expects Barbour to face considerable pressure from a Big Red defense characterized by its aggressiveness.
“They’ll take more chances and they’ll probably double and press us a little bit more,” Smith said. “We’ll have to make them pay to be successful.”
Cornell’s defense has had particular success this season in pressuring three-point shots, holding its opponents to just 28 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
For the Lions—who only hit six of their 30 three-point shots last weekend—it will be important to keep the ball moving on the offensive end to limit the effectiveness of Cornell’s length and quickness.
“We have to be shrewd on the ones we take,” Smith said. “When a team defends the three that well, it’s not going to be the first look usually. You’ve got to be patient enough to work for the next look.”
The Big Red’s defense had mixed success last weekend when Cornell faced Penn and Princeton. After a strong 67-59 win over the Tigers in which freshman guard Galal Cancer had a game-high 17 points, the Big Red fell to the Quakers, 64-52.
Freshman forward Shonn Miller—the Ivy League Rookie of the Week for the fourth time this season—earned a double-double against Penn with 19 points and 10 boards. But the Quakers’ shooting, highlighted by 18-point performances by senior guards Tyler Bernardini and Zack Rosen, proved too much as Penn went 10-20 from three-point range.
Miller was the only Big Red player to hit double figures against Penn, but against Princeton, there were three Cornell players that scored more than nine points.
Senior guard Drew Ferry, the Big Red’s leading scorer and the fifth-ranked three-point shooter in the nation, was uncharacteristically quiet last weekend, scoring a combined eight points in the two games.
The Lions are well aware of Ferry’s capabilities, as he hit seven treys the last time Cornell came to Levien and almost gave the Big Red a come-from-behind victory. In last year’s matchup the Lions hung on for the 79-75 victory, but this Saturday they hope Ferry’s scoring slump will make him a non-factor.
Smith says Columbia’s advantage against Cornell will likely come from the Light Blue frontcourt and its work on the boards.
The Big Red is last in the Ivy League in rebounding, and the Lions are looking to use junior big men Mark Cisco and John Daniels to control the glass. Cisco tallied 10 rebounds against the Tigers while Daniels had eight against the Quakers.
The primary obstacle to the Lions’ success in the frontcourt will be foul trouble, a problem for Cisco since last year.
“Mark’s got to keep himself on the floor,” Smith said. “It hurt us a little bit—him getting into foul trouble—against Penn. It makes him tentative defensively, and makes him less effective.”
The Lions will have one more important advantage over the Big Red on Saturday: the home court. With a record of 0-8 on the road, Cornell has yet to win a game away from Ithaca this year, and Smith hopes the Lions will take the opportunity to bounce back from last weekend’s performance with a win over the Big Red.
Saturday’s tipoff against Cornell is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Levien Gymnasium, immediately following the women’s basketball game.