At one point Columbia led by 21 points against Yale. The Lions had all the momentum and were ready to secure a big win at home. Then the Bulldogs went zone and started pressing and Columbia showed that this young team still has a lot to learn in a 59-58 defeat.
“I think we got a little complacent and let them make the run. We weren’t attacking anymore,” said Brian Barbour. “We just kind of sat back. They cut it to 14, then 8 and it just keeps going down and by then they have all the momentum swinging their way. It’s a tough one.”
This is Columbia’s fifth loss in Ivy League play and the fifth decided by five points or fewer. The Lions have been competitive in every game, but now find themselves at 3-5 in league play with a tough four-game road trip up next.
Three of those four games are against teams that the Lions have already lost close Ivy games to at home. Princeton, Penn and Yale all came to Levien this season and each escaped with a close victory that came down to the final minute.
“Every team continually changes regardless of how they’re doing. We’re doing well obviously,” said Mark Cisco. “Every game we’ve lost has been by five points or less. We’re right there. We just need to take the next step and win these games that are so close.”
In order to do that the Lions are going to have to make more plays down the stretch. With 4:20 remaining Meiko Lyles hit a three-point jumper to make the score 58-50 in favor of the Lions, but Columbia didn’t score again for the remainder of the game.
Cisco missed two jumpers in the final four minutes after going 6-6 to start the game. Barbour and Alex Rosenberg each missed a shot and committed a turnover during that stretch and senior Blaise Staab missed two free throws down one with three seconds remaining.
Focusing on the free throws though won’t help anyone. Columbia should’ve put this game away after it went up by 21 on Cisco’s jumper with 11:30 remaining. Instead the Lions let Yale right back into it. The Bulldogs’ star center Greg Mangano was frustrated for 35 minutes. He didn’t get his first bucket from the field until 5:42 remaining, but he and Reggie Willhite were the aggressors and made key plays down the stretch.
“I thought we were in pretty good shape up 21,” said Columbia head coach Kyle Smith. “We did that to Cornell. We were down 14 and came back and had a chance to win it. So nothing surprises me. They rallied and Willhite wasn’t going to let them lose.”
Willhite was the player of the game for Yale and finished with 24 points, five assists and seven steals, but it’s the senior’s will to win that Columbia seemed unable to match down the stretch.
“There was a little bit of deer in the headlights to be honest,” Smith said. “We used all our timeouts. We tried to stop every run. I thought we got some good shots and didn’t make them to keep the pressure on them.”
The good news for Columbia is that this team still has time to learn. The Lions will bring back most of the key pieces of this team for another run. Then Barbour and Cisco will be the grizzled veterans. Even this season there’s six more Ivy games left to show how the team has developed, including those three big road games.
“We let one slip tonight,” Barbour said. “That’s a tough one.”
And a tough way to learn the lesson of how to win.