This is what happens when it all goes right. Columbia was scorching hot on offense and constantly disrupted Cornell on its way to an 88-62 victory at Levien Gymnasium on Saturday night.
The Lions tied the school record they set earlier this season by knocking down 16 threes and also deflected a ton of passes, which led to 20 turnovers by the Big Red.
The scoring was quite balanced for Columbia (4-12, 1-2 Ivy League) with five players in double-figures, led by Lukas Meisner’s 19 points in 29 minutes.
“I thought the tempo was good. I thought we played well and I thought we played together,” said Columbia head coach Jim Engles about the offense.
Quinton Adlesh went 5-6 from the field and scored 14 points and Nate Hickman had potentially his best game of the season with 14 points. Hickman’s 14 points tied his season high. He also had four assists to just two turnovers while playing some time at the point due to foul trouble for Mike Smith.
“It obviously feels good,” Hickman said about his offensive performance. “I feel like my team has trusted me the whole year. I went through a little bit of time struggling with my shot, but they all kept their confidence in me and it felt good to shoot the ball well for them.”
Hickman and freshman Gabe Stefanini were able to initiate the Columbia attack without Smith on the court. Cornell (6-10, 0-3) gave up a ton of good looks by going under ball screens and the Lions were happy to take advantage. Seven players hit at least one three for Columbia.
Smith’s nine points and 25 minutes were the lowest of the season against a Division I opponent. (He only played 12 minutes in the blowout of Sarah Lawrence.) But the Lions were able to consistently buid on their lead and fight back against Cornell runs even with Smith on the bench. Columbia extended its lead to 14 by halftime despite their lead guard sitting on the bench for the final five minutes of the half.
The second unit has been bolstered lately by the return of Kyle Castlin and the senior forward made his presence felt again with 10 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench. He also provided some excellent help defense in the paint. It was Castlin’s best game against a Division I opponent since returning from a 10-game absence due to injury.
It was the defensive end though that Engles was most impressed by. Matt Morgan eventually got his 20 points, but he had to work for it, as he went 5-9 from the field and 8-11 from the line with four turnovers against four assists. Morgan didn’t get much help either. His teammates were constantly turning the ball over against Columbia’s strong ball pressure. The Big Red also shot just 13-28 from the free throw line.
“As much as the offense goes up and down our success is dictated by our defense,” Engles said. “I think today was the first time we played 40 minutes of defense all season.”
“We were just trying to focus on playing hard and staying in front of the ball and making sure they didn’t get any easy shots,” Hickman said. “They’re a pretty good shooting team so we didn’t want to let them get into a rhythm.”
These two teams will play again in Ithaca, New York just seven days from this meeting. It’ll be interesting to see how both sides adjust, but when the feisty, attacking, three-point draining Columbia team shows up the Lions are incredibly dangerous, despite their 4-12 record. Columbia looks to be in a four-team race for two final spots in the second annual Ivy League Tournament. Here’s hoping this is the team that keeps showing up.