Columbia’s dream of an Ivy League title died with 5.2 seconds remaining in the first half against Brown on Friday night.
It wasn’t anything the Lions did. Yale’s complete thrashing of Cornell, 88-64, meant that Columbia is destined to try to play the role of spoiler on Saturday night.
“We were hoping we would catch some breaks,” said Columbia head coach Kyle Smith about his team’s chances heading into this final weekend. “Cornell couldn’t help us out tonight.”
Of course the season didn’t end the instant the clock hit zeros in Ithica, NY. Instead the Lions were being given all they could handle from Brown, especially JR Hobbie.
Hobbie made his first six threes and scored a career-high 23 points for the Bears. He didn’t miss until there was 10:17 left in the game and almost single-handedly helped his team pull the upset at Levien Gymnasium.
“He’s good,” Smith said about Hobbie. “He’s kind of a one-trick guy, but it’s a really good trick.”
The Lions though had their own counter, Maodo Lo. The senior point guard had another fine game with 23 points of his own. He shot 9-15, including 4-7 from three. The senior, playing in his final Ivy League weekend, helped put the game away with a crossover three, and then a steal and layup that extended Columbia’s lead to six with about 10 minutes remaining.
Even though the Lions led by as many as 11, things never come easy on Morningside Heights. So the Lions were forced to grit out some scary moments down the stretch. A scramble for the ball with 5.2 seconds remaining ended up with Columbia securing possession leading by one. Then, after Grant Mullins hit two free throws, the Lions once again watched a game-tying three-pointer leave the hand of a dangerous shooter with little time remaining in regulation.
Unlike two weeks ago against Princeton, Obi Okolie’s shot was short and the Lions survived, 66-63.
“I was okay with that one,” Smith said. “I’ve lost it twice fouling.”
Columbia is now 21-9 and 10-3 in the Ivy League. While the Lions won’t be playing in the NCAA tournament—or most likely the NIT either—Smith’s team still seems destined to play in some sort of postseason.
“It just verifies what we’ve been talking about,” Smith said about his team’s season. “We had to deal with expectations this year. … They’ve just been getting better. This nucleus of guys have meant a lot to this program.”
A few unsung players also had excellent nights for the Lions. Nate Hickman scored 10 points in 16 minutes and relentlessly chased Hobbie around the perimeter.
“Nate is probably the one that has gotten the short end of the stick on minutes this year just because Grant (Mullins) and Maodo (Lo) are really good players,” Smith said. “[Hickman] probably needs a little bit longer leash like he had tonight to be a player.”
And Jeff Coby started and played 24 minutes. He scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds and was instrumental in slowing down Cedric Kuakumensah, who scored just eight points on 3-10 shooting.
Now the Lions will attempt to end Yale’s coronation. Thanks to Princeton’s loss at Harvard the Bulldogs come to New York City needing to just win at Levien to finish 13-1 and secure the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. It would be Yale’s first appearance since 1962. (Which, unbelievably, is even longer than Columbia’s drought since 1968.)
“We just want to go out tomorrow and compete. It’s our last game, for the seniors it’s our last home game,” Lo said. “We’ve had a good Ivy League season so far and we want to make sure we keep that up and compete.”
“I think 80 percent of it would be it’s Yale,” Smith said. “And then 10 percent of it is senior night and 10 percent is being a spoiler.”
The Lions might not be able to win the title, but they surely will have a say in who does.