As Steve Frankoski stepped behind the three-point line and lined up another attempt, the air was sucked out of Levien Gymnasium. The crowd frozen in time.
Sure, the Lions were beating Yale by 10 points, but with 6:48 remaining anything could happen. The crowd on the home side, mostly CU students, was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Wanting to know that this season, even this moment, was different.
Isaac Cohen’s tip out went to Frankoski’s hands and as he rose and fired over a Yale defender the anticipation thickened. And when the ball fell through the net, years of frustration were expelled.
“We were waiting for a nice three to knock down and we finally got one and it put us over the top,” Frankoski said.
“That was the backbreaker,” said Columbia head coach Kyle Smith.
Hitting those backbreaking shots off of key plays, has been a struggle for Columbia, seemingly for forever. In fact, after earning its 17th win of the season against Yale on Sunday the Lions have their most wins since the 1978-79 season.
So while Columbia 62, Yale 46 might just seem like two digits on a scoreboard, it’s actually much, much more. The victory gave the Lions their first Ivy weekend sweep in five seasons. By defeating the Bulldogs, who came in tied for first place, the Lions reaffirmed that they’re one of the better teams in the Ivy League this season.
“It’s confidence. We know we’re pretty good at home. There’s an expectation that we should win if we play well,” Smith said about the sweep.
There’s still a lot of work left to do. While Smith said that sweeping a home Ivy weekend was on the team’s list of goals, there are others to accomplish. Columbia hasn’t finished above .500 in the league since the 1992-93 season and that now is in reach with four games remaining. The Lions also haven’t played in the postseason in the modern era, and while the NCAA tournament is, at best, incredibly unlikely, a potential bid to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) or College Basketball Invitational (CBI) will probably be there at the end of the season.
Unlikely heroes emerged during the home games against Brown and Yale. Meiko Lyles scored 21 points on 10 shots in the two-point victory over the Bears. Frankoski had scored just 10 points all season before Sunday, but he poured in 17 points off the bench agains the Bulldogs.
“We preach three things in this program: Having a great attitude, a great work ethic and guys that really want to be here. [Frankoski] never pouted, never hung his head and good things happen for those guys,” Smith said. “We’ve got some other guys who haven’t gotten cracks too that are pretty good.”
The performance by Frankoski is a good example of the depth in the Columbia program. Smith has a talented group of players with a variety of skill sets that can be called upon when needed. In the first half against Yale that included inserting freshman Connor Voss in the paint for six critical minutes. Another freshman, Jeff Coby, played 24 key minutes against the Bears, scoring six points and grabbing nine rebounds.
In the Ivy League, where most conference weekends are back-to-back, that type of depth is important. What might be just as important for the Lions is that there isn’t a single senior on the roster. This group of players will have the chance to grow together. That inexperience was why the Lions were picked last in the Ivy League before the start of the season, but now it represents something different: Hope for the future.
“It means a lot for our program, but we want to achieve more,” said Columbia’s Maodo Lo after the victory over Brown clinched a winning record for the Lions this season. “It’s one game at a time and we’re trying to have an even better season.”