What a difference a week makes. After Columbia went to Ithaca, NY last week and defeated Cornell, the Big Red flipped the script on Saturday with a strong defensive effort in a 5-point victory.
The Big Red allowed the Lions to score just 0.84 points per possession by clamping down in the paint on the defensive end. Columbia made just 33% of their two-point attempts on Saturday, after making 59% in the prior game. It was a huge difference that completely changed the game. Here are some other thoughts from the game.
“They came prepared to challenge us at the rim,” said Nate Hickman, who scored 13 points. “Last game we played them we got a lot of easy layups at the rim and I don’t think that as a team we were ready as a team for them to be challenging us the way they did.”
Here are some thoughts…
Mike Smith carried the Columbia offense at times, but he also missed two key free throws down the stretch. Smith was one of the players that Cornell seemed more focused on disrupting near the rim, but the freshman point guard is so quick that he was still able to generate some open looks, often just by pushing the ball up the court in transition.
“I think that their transition defense wasn’t set when we got steals and when we got rebounds, coach told me to push and it worked,” Smith said.
Smith scored 24 points on 21 shots, including 3-7 from 3. But he showed some of his inexperience down the stretch. He missed a couple of free throws with under a minute to play and also passed up a potential game-tying three-point attempt.
This time Cornell was ready for Luke Petrasek. Petrasek absolutely torched Cornell just a week ago, shooting 9-9 on two-point attempts and 11-14 overall on his way to 35 points. The Big Red was much more physical with him on the low block on Saturday and it seemed to frustrate him. Also, the shots just weren’t falling. Petrasek went 0-6 from three, including the potential game-tying look. He scored eight points and grabbed eight rebounds.
The defense was actually pretty good. A mix of man-to-man and zone defense appeared to frustrate Cornell throughout the game and caused a bunch of bad turnovers. The Big Red committed 22 turnovers in the game, including a whopping 16 in the first half alone. The only other game the Columbia offense struggled this much the Lions were blown out by Navy, the fact that it was just a five-point game speaks to how hard Columbia worked defensively. Matt Morgan though was an especially tough cover. His three-pointer from the left wing broke the game open for Cornell. Morgan finished with 17 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists.
“I like what we’re doing defensively,” said head coach Jim Engles. “I think the guys are active and we’re creating some turnovers and doing a decent job of rebounding the ball better, so I think we’re seeing some legitimate stats on that end.”
The defense performance is even more impressive considering that Engles spent a lot of time experimenting with personnel during the first half. Twelve players appeared in the game for the Lions, with each of them playing at least three minutes on the court.
“There’s need to be a good balance of minutes and I think I need to do a better job of balancing out the minutes for the guys. We’re still a very inexperienced team, so we’re still trying to find a way to get guys experience on the court in front of a packed crowd in a league game,” Engles said.
It’ll be interesting to see if Engles can get more minutes out of players like freshman forward Patrick Tape. It was especially useful to have the 6’10” first-year player for this game, because Jeff Coby seemed to struggle with the physicality underneath the basket and also spent most of the game in foul trouble before eventually fouling out after playing 17 minutes.
Additional Note: The loss also really opens up the race for the fourth spot in the inaugural Ivy League tournament, which Columbia had the inside track for before its home loss. Now it’s an extremely close 4-way race, with Penn, Cornell, Columbia and Brown all having a shot. (Dartmouth is most likely out of the running.) It could take as few as 6 wins to make the tournament, though a 7-7 or 8-6 record is more likely to get the job done.