Yale 72, Columbia 69 (CIT)

I was unable to be at Levien Gymnasium for Columbia’s season finale, but Ray Curren (The Mid-Majority’s ambitious traveling writer and Big Apple Buckets contributor) helped us out with this guest post.

It may have only been the CIT (Collegeinsider.com Postseason Tournament, if you’re scoring at home). It may be little noticed or long remembered nationally, or even regionally once the NCAA tournament and its $600 cheap seats at Madison Square Garden tip off Friday night 70 or so blocks downtown.

But for Yale and Columbia, whose last NCAA berths came in 1962 and 1968, respectively, any postseason basketball is a big deal. And to their credit, the Columbia faithful packed Levien Gym for the third meeting between the Ancient Eight rivals.

Aside from possibly it being light outside much longer than when they’re usually playing, you wouldn’t have noticed anything different on the Upper West Side. Columbia came out firing and would eventually hit 15 three-pointers, but it wasn’t enough to stop a scorching Javier Duren as Yale ended the Lions’ season 72-69 before 2,394 at Levien.

“They made adjustments in the second half and played their shooters a little bit more,” Columbia coach Kyle Smith said. “We usually defend Duren over the top and chase him into our bigs, but he was just really good tonight and was able to beat us both inside and outside. You have to bring a lot of help with (Justin) Sears, he’s a great player, and we did that, but Duren made us pay.”

The Lions came in 38th in Division I at 8.0 three-pointers per game, and had that matched by halftime, leading at the intermission 34-25, as Yale turned the ball over nine times. James Jones, who became the all-time winningest coach in school history over the weekend in the Bulldogs’ second-round win over Holy Cross, was far from pleased.

“My son likes to come into the locker room at halftime, and at the end of the game he said, ‘Dad, you were mad at halftime.’ I wasn’t very nice in terms in what we said because I felt it slipping through our hands. There were a couple of times at timeouts I wanted us to move the basketball and two passes later, a guy was taking a shot.”

Duren had just seven points in the first half, averaged only 12 per game this season, and has largely been limited after a late-season ankle injury that sidelined him for two games. But not on this night. He scored seven of Yale’s points in a 12-0 run (that saw Smith pick up a rare technical) to open the second half, and every time Columbia struck – usually on a three-pointer – Duren seemed to have an answer, although the Bulldogs did get big shots from Jack Montague and Greg Kelley after Columbia opened a 46-42 advantage midway through the second half.

In all, Columbia would go 15-of-28 from behind the arc, with Lo hitting 6, Alex Rosenberg 4, Meiko Lyles 3, and Steve Frankoski (who torched Yale the last time they were at Levien) 2, but didn’t do enough to win.

Perhaps the Lions’ best chance came after Cory Osetkowski (playing with gauze up his nose after being bloodied minutes before) followed a Sears (who did manage 17 points) dunk with a layup to tie the game at 55 with exactly four minutes left. Columbia forced Yale into a tough three-point attempt from the left corner by Armani Cotton with the shot clock running down, but on the miss no one really appeared interested in the loose ball, so Cotton made his way back to it and laid it in. Yale would never relinquish the lead again.

Lyles, Lo (twice), and Frankoski all hit three-pointers in the final two minutes to keep the game close, but Duren continued to make his free throws and the one time he didn’t, he grabbed his own rebound. In the end, Duren – whose previous career-high was 26 and had scored 20 or more only twice this season – finished with 26 in the second half (outscoring his entire team’s first-half total), and 33 points total to go along with nine rebounds.

“Coach (Jones) challenged us at halftime that we weren’t playing to the best of our abilities, and I personally took that to heart,” Duren said. “I thought I was playing pretty hard, but there’s always more you can give. I just started being aggressive and my shots were falling, so I was very confident.”

Columbia had one final chance down three with 2.8 seconds left, but could only get the ball to Lo from 45 feet away and his heave wasn’t close.

Yale (18-13), which has won three postseason games in one season (all against 20-win teams) for the first time in school history, will likely play at Towson in the semifinals Tuesday if the Tigers can beat Murray State Thursday night. If not, it could be a trip to VMI, who beat Ohio on Wednesday.

“As a coach and as a team, we kind of had a salty taste in our mouth the way the season ended,” Jones said. “We have a chance to win an Ivy championship and it fell through our fingertips, and we didn’t play well in the last game of the regular season. To be able to come out and play in a tournament like this – right now everyone we’re playing is a very good basketball team. For us going forward, it bodes well for us, and gets our guys thinking that we should be playing at this time of year. Don’t make Spring Break plans because you’re not going to have a Spring Break.”

Lo had 22 points and Rosenberg added 19 for Columbia, which was outrebounded 32-20 and didn’t have an individual grab more than four boards. But, like Yale, the Lions have most of their team returning next season and will likely be tabbed to challenge now three-time defending champion Harvard in an increasingly difficult Ivy League.

“When I came to Columbia, I thought they would treat me like a professor, I’d be sitting down in my office and no one would ever bother me,” Smith said. “But this place has really special alums who really care about their student-athletes. I knew playing in the CIT was good for our program, but the outpouring (after they beat Valparaiso on the road) from people who were really, genuinely excited was amazing. Then when we got the home game (against Eastern Michigan), I didn’t know if anyone would be here.”

“We filled the place with two-days notice. It’s disappointing we couldn’t extend it for them and keep it going. Tonight was an Ivy League postseason game.”

2 thoughts on “Yale 72, Columbia 69 (CIT)

  1. Believe me, both of these teams are gearing up to make a run at Harvard next year. And both have the guns to do it. Not sure the mind set at Princeton, but the powers there could not have drawn up a worse post-season scenario for the Tigers, 4000 miles for two games. Not surprising the kids phoned it in at Fresno State. TJ Bray, one of the program’s great warriors, never gets a post-season home game. What a shame.The response at Levien for an Ancient 8 match-up may provoke a reconsideration of the Ivy tournament issue, especially after 5 teams played into late March. Give the top 4 first round home games and guarantee the team with the best season record an NIT bid if it loses the conference tourney. (Of course, this season Harvard would deserve the “second bid” if it were upset) Or maybe divide the League into two divisions, allowing each division winner to host two games, winners to meet for title at home of team with better record.

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