Guest blogger Jesse Kramer of The Catch and Shoot Blog sent in this guest post from Columbia’s Senior Night on Saturday.
Everything was proceeding as planned for Columbia on Senior Night. A near-capacity crowd provided an energy boost in the final home game of the season, and the Lions built a 31-20 lead by halftime. Of their 12 misses from the field, seven resulted in offensive rebounds. The Lions also forced six turnovers, which led to 13 points.
But Columbia’s defense unraveled in the second half, and Brown’s Cedric Kuakumensah and Sean McGonagill kept the Lions off the offensive glass. They combined for 10 defensive boards over the final 20 minutes, more than Brown had as a team in the entire first half. The Bears also torched Columbia from the field in the second period with 63% shooting (14-of-22). Matt Sullivan, who was the hero the first time these teams met with 27 points and a game winning three-pointer, scored 11 of his 17 points during the final 9:30.
The Lions maintained their poise and fought back. Down 58-56, Rosenberg calmly drained two free throws with 3.1 ticks on the clock to tie it. After calling timeout in the frontcourt, Brown ran a set play to free Tucker Halpern on the right win. Halpern found daylight and drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer for the 59-58 victory.
“They threw a pretty good pass over the top and [senior forward John Daniels] lost it for a second,” said Columbia’s senior point guard Brian Barbour. “We’ve just got to make them miss it at the end. It’s easy to say that, but we haven’t done that this year when we really need a stop.”
“We even said it: ‘Halpern going to the corner’,” said Columbia head coach Kyle Smith. “I put [Daniels] on him because J.D. is our toughest guy… But he kind of lost sight of the ball.”
All four seniors were in the starting lineup for Columbia, including Dean Kowalski. It was Kowalski’s first career start, and he made some early contributions. One minute after assisting Daniels for Columbia’s first field goal, he jumped into the passing lane for a steal that led to a layup by Maodo Lo. His four minutes played tied his season-high against Division I competition.
“Dean got the start, which was awesome,” said senior center Mark Cisco. “The four of us playing together at the beginning was a great feeling.”
Just one week after being in the hospital, Barbour returned to full form. He scored 11 points in the first half on 3-of-4 shooting and finished with 18 points, two assists and five steals.
“He had that little burst where he could run by some people and make some plays,” Smith said.
Despite his strong individual performance, Barbour was understandably disappointed in the end result. “It’s definitely not the way you want to play your last game,” he said. “We’ve just got to finish games. We’ll get there as a program, and I know we’re going in the right direction. It’s crappy that it had to happen tonight, but we’ll get there.”
Although Barbour’s career at Levien Gymnasium is over, there is still more basketball to be played before he has to hang up the blue and white for good. “We’ve just got to move forward and get ready because we’ve got [Harvard] coming up on Friday night.”
Cisco had a similar attitude.
“Obviously, any loss stinks. This might be a little worse, but we’ve still got two games left,” the 6-foot-9 center said. “A month from now I’m going to be wishing I had two games left, so I’ve just got to go out there and have a great time.”
Barbour and Cisco will leave as two of the better players to put on a Columbia uniform. Barbour could move into the top 10 in career scoring next weekend, and he is already second in career assists. He is also the best free-throw shooter of all time in the Ivy League. Cisco became the all-time leader in career offensive rebounds at Columbia this season, and he is also fifth in career blocks.
When asked about the sting that the loss presented specifically on Senior Night, Smith went into typical coach-speak. “They all hurt the same. They all count as one,” he said.
But then he got a little more emotional, “It would’ve been nice for them to celebrate. They all have their families here. They really have been great for this program. I’m down. I can’t lie. I’m down for them because they get in at six in the morning to work on their game and stuff. They care a lot, and they work at it. I think they deserve better… They were the foundation that helped turn this thing. We talked about being accountable and doing things right. As a coach, I love basketball and I want to win games. But having a great attitude in life and having great work ethic and enjoying where you’re at is what it’s about… They enjoy coming to work every day, and they have a good attitude about it. They won’t let bad attitudes exist.”