When then-sophomore Errick Peck’s layup was blocked by Columbia guard Noruwa Agho with 56 seconds left on the clock at Newman Arena last year, it sealed the Red’s second loss in the Ivy League in as many games. The 70-66 defeat began a drought of five conference games without a win. This year, though, with a win over defending league champion Princeton already under its belts, the Red (6-10, 1-1 Ivy League) will go into Columbia Lions (11-7, 0-2) territory with a little more confidence.
“I think these first two Ivy games really prepared us well,” senior point guard and captain Chris Wroblewski said. “The loss against Penn exposed a lot of weaknesses, but Friday’s win against Princeton really gave us a lot of confidence.”
The Red defense was able to hold Princeton’s leading scorer Ian Hummer to only 14 points on 12 field goal attempts, while the offense came in bunches with three players scoring in double digits. Against Penn, though, freshman Shonn Miller was the only player in double-figures, and the Red fell by 12.
Similar to Penn’s offense, led by top scorers Zach Rosen and Tyler Bernadini, the Lions also feature a balanced attack. Though they have three players scoring in double digits, the Lions are also difficult to overcome on the defensive end. Columbia is ranked second in the league behind No. 25 Harvard in scoring defense, allowing an average of only 59.2 points per game. The Lions also lead the league in field goal percent defense, with opponents shooting at 39.6 percent on the season.
The Lions’ leading scorer, junior Brian Barbour, ranks No. 4 in the Ivy league in scoring, with 15.5 points per game.
“Barbour had an outstanding season last year,” Wroblewski said. “And I was checking the box scores and he had two great games Friday and Saturday.”
Barbour is coming off two straight 25 point performances, though his team came up empty in both games.
“He’ll be hard to stop, just like Rosen was on Saturday,” Wroblewski said of Barbour.
Rosen totaled 18 points in an impressive 8-for-15 shooting performance, while hitting two 3-pointers in three attempts against the Red.
Barbour is joined in the backcourt by Agho, who is the Lions’ second leading scorer with 14 points per game. Agho and Barbour excelled against the Red last year, scoring a combined 75 points in the two games.
“It’s going to take a team effort to stop them, and we’ll have to continue to throw fresh legs at them,” Wroblewski said.
Both of the Red’s losses to Columbia last year were by a mere four points. The trend of struggling in late game situations has continued this season. Eight of the Red’s 10 losses have come by less than 10 points, and Cornell has played in three overtime games already.
“A big part of those late game losses has been our free throw shooting,” Wroblewski said. “This weekend we did a terrible job shooting from the line.”
In the loss to Penn, the Red shot a dismal 54 percent from the charity stripe, and the squad is now shooting 65.3 percent on the season — third to last in the Ivy League.
“I think everyone on the team has been getting to the gym this week to shoot free throws,” Wroblewski said.
Another struggle that the Red will need to overcome on Saturday is playing on the road. The team is 0-8 away from Newman Arena thus far this season.
“It really is difficult to play anywhere on the road, and this has been an obvious struggle for us so far this season,” Wroblewski said.
Despite these difficulties in foreign territory, Wroblewski added that the team tries “not to think about it too much.”
“We are a completely different team than we were a month ago, and we’re expecting to come out this weekend with a win,” he said.