ITHACA, N.Y. — Kyle Smith pointed a finger in the air with a wide grin on his face after he walked off the Newman Arena court following Columbia’s (13-6, 2-0 Ivy) 79-68 win over Cornell (7-9, 0-2). For the third in his six-year tenure, Smith has led the Lions to a 2-0 Ivy League start, but this is the first time that record comes with heightened expectations.
Just a while before, Smith shouted loud enough for the entire venue to hear, “put the ball in the hole” at his bench following a Jeff Coby miss. But afterward he was able to joke that Saturday was one of his calmer games. The past two weeks weren’t pretty for Columbia against the Robert Hatter-less Big Red, but 2-0 is 2-0.
Here are three thoughts from the Columbia win.
C.J. Davis does more than you think, and he played his best game vs. Cornell
The Lions’ freshman poured in 11 points, his career-high versus a Division I opponent, and played important minutes with good defense. He shot 3-4 from 3, had three assists, three rebounds, a block, and a steal.
Efficiency has been hard to come by for Davis, who has shot just 35.4% from the field this season. But the freshman made his first 3-pointer to cut a five-point deficit to 17-15. Then he hit another from the corner to give the Lions the lead amid a 10-0 run that spanned just 1:46.
“He gives us a good on-ball defender and a play-maker that I think will help Maodo (Lo) and Grant (Mullins) defensively and play-making wise,” Smith said. “We’re good defensively when he’s on the floor and at the point of the ball, he’s our best.“
A week ago, Davis was 0-of-2 from the field and didn’t score.
“It’s always like in any game” Davis said, “you just get a touch and you feel like you get more into the game.”
Columbia played a game more suited for its success
Columbia let Matt Morgan go for an efficient 29 points a week ago. The Lions also shot just 7-23 from three, and never felt comfortable in a win that inspired more doubt than optimism.
The Lions had seven threes by halftime alone on Saturday and shot the lights out of the gym. Lo, who has consistently been hounded by the Columbia’s upstate nemesis during his career, hit 7-11 for a game-high 18 points. With 8:31 left in the second half, Lo hit a three with the shot clock ticking down that was well beyond the 3-point arc from straight away. It put CU by 13 points, the largest the lead would be the rest of the way.
“Guys made tough shots,” Cornell head coach Bill Courtney said, referring to Columbia. “Our defense wasn’t what I would like it to be, but I’m giving Columbia credit for making plays.”
For a stretch of the first half, the quick tempo favored the way that Cornell likes to win games, especially against the Lions, a team with one of the slowest, yet most efficient offenses in college basketball. But even at that pace, the Lions were able to hit from distance. And when the game got close, it was a Luke Petrasek spot-up shot from the left wing that iced the game.
As a team, Columbia shot 13-24 from long range.
This team is still not 100 percent there
Smith said he wanted to get injured point guard Isaac Cohen in the game. Cohen has now been cleared to play for four games, but hasn’t come off the bench. Smith hinted that he considered getting Cohen in late for defense, but chose not to.
Cohen has been ready to play, and Smith said that he expects him to suit up next Friday at Dartmouth.
Alex Rosenberg, too, hasn’t returned to the starting lineup, and only played 22 minutes as Smith eased him back in. He played well in last week’s win, but likely isn’t 100 percent. Lukas Meisner, who had been seeing an increased role, played only 11 minutes without attempting a shot on Saturday.
Columbia played well in Ithica, but there are key pieces that have contributed to the increased expectations that aren’t even playing a role in that success just yet.