It was every Columbia fan’s recurring nightmare: Siyani Chambers was dribbling down the left-hand side of the court as the final seconds ticked away. And as he took a three from the left wing, the crowd at Levien Gymnasium collectively held its breath.
And they exhaled. The shot missed. Time expired. The Lions had won.
Harvard’s senior guard finished 0-8 from the field and Columbia held on for a huge home victory in its quest to qualify for the inaugural Ivy League tournament. The 65-62 home victory gave Lions a sweep in their first back-to-back weekend under Jim Engles and also maybe helped erase some painful memories from seasons past.
“It just feels good to finally get one where people don’t expect you to win but you can still pull it out,” Nate Hickman, who scored 13 points, said afterward.
The Lions pulled out the victory thanks to hot shooting and excellent defense in the first half along with some grit in the second. Columbia shot 7-12 from 3 in the first 20 minutes and held Harvard to just 26 points in building a 15-point halftime cushion.
Players like Quinton Adlesh stepped up. The sophomore finished with 11 points on 4-6 shooting from the field, including 3-5 from downtown.
“In every game teams are keying on all these other guys up here,” Adlesh said after the game. “It’s kind of other role players’ jobs to make shots when they’re open and just stay confident.”
Engles praised Adlesh’s toughness. The coach also said that he had apologized to the sophomore before the game for not giving him enough minutes against Cornell last Saturday.
“He’s just competitive and he defends and he does what he’s supposed to do,” Engles said. “And he makes big shots because he’s a tough kid. He’s not afraid to take big shots.”
In the second half the Crimson launched three-point shot after three-point shot and relied on their big men to grab key offensive rebounds of off the long carroms. Harvard grabbed 19 offensive rebounds in the game, but finished just 10-39 from beyond the 3-point line. Only sophomore Corey Johnson was really able to get going. He was 7-14 from distance for 21 points, while the rest of the team was a combined 3-25.
“We needed to rebound better. If we had rebounded better we would’ve cut out half the threes they got, but you have to pick your poison,” Engles said. “Thankfully the game wasn’t 30 seconds longer.”
One player who did fight on the glass was Jeff Coby. He grabbed six offensive rebounds and scored 13 points. But it may have been his 4-6 shooting from the free throw line that was most important. Coby was able to settle things down and hit a few big free throws, while the Lions finished just 13-24 from the line overall.
“That was like an out-of-body Jeff,” Engles said about Coby’s energy on the court. “He was legitimately crazy out there. Him running around out there on that last possession, there were like seven of him out there grabbing the ball. He was so locked in and his activity and his physicality are sorely needed by our team and he’s obviously taken over that leadership mantle. He plays so hard, it’s obviously a big deal for us.”
Coby said that he really enjoyed getting a win in front of a packed house at Levien. “We appreciate the fans. It was a crazy environment,” he said.
It certainly was. Here are a few more thoughts about the game.
The end-game strategy was questionable. Even before Chambers’s three-point attempt, there big decisions along with some odd occurrences. I’m particularly shocked, especially considering Columbia shot so poorly from the free throw line, that Tommy Amaker decided to play out the final Columbia offensive possession. There was just a six second differential between the shot clock and game clock. Yes, Columbia would have been attempting two free throws, but extending the game at that point seems to be the more prudent option. It worked out in the end—at least in the sense that Chambers was able to get up court and get a shot off—but the Crimson might have been helped by the fact that the shot clock never reset.
Watching the replay it appears that Coby’s put back may have hit the rim, but the shot clock operator never reset it. So when the ball came out to Luke Petrasek he was forced to put up a 3.
“When [Coby] got the rebound I was just giving him an outlet,” Petrasek said. “When I got it I was just going to hold it and let time run out, but I heard [Hickman] screaming at me. So I looked up and the shot clock was at two, so I was like, ‘Alright, I have to get this off.’ And it almost went in.”
“It bought us a little more time because it took some seconds off the clock, but I just had to get it up because they didn’t reset it,” Petrasek said.
In the end it worked out for Columbia, but it would’ve been quite the situation if the result of the last shot would’ve been different.
Columbia exploited Harvard’s fatal defensive flaw. The Crimson are very athletic and like to play extremely strong pressure defense against every position on the court, but it leaves them open for backdoor cuts. Columbia exploited that flaw time and again on Saturday night, scoring on at least 10 backdoor layups.
“We knew that was going to be there for us, so we just had to deliver good passes, which we’ve been working on a lot lately,” Adlesh said.
It’s something that Harvard is going to have to fix, or it could be vulnerable defensively against other teams that have the movement as a staple in their offense, i.e. Princeton.
The Harvard freshmen are impressive. Bryce Aiken committed a key charge and took an ill-advised three-point shot toward the end of the game, but there were certainly possessions where you could see why he appears to be the heir apparent to Chambers. Seth Towns and Chris Lewis are both athletic big men who just need a bit of time to develop. Towns had his first career double-double against Columbia with 12 points and 12 rebounds, while Lewis battle foul trouble. Towns was especially effective on the offensive glass, grabbing six boards. Despite the loss the Crimson are obviously an Ivy League contender and should be incredibly competitive moving forward.