As I’m sure you know by now, the men’s basketball team beat Cornell for the second week in a row, beginning its Ivy campaign with a 2-0 record for the first time in 11 years.
This win by itself was impressive. The Big Red was picked to finish third in the league in the preseason media poll, while our Lions were picked to finished seventh, just above lowly Dartmouth. Columbia hadn’t won at Newman Arena since 2006. It was the program’s first sweep of Cornell since 2002. All of these facts make Saturday’s victory more remarkable, but you know what’s really impressive? They won this weekend without playing their best basketball.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it up to Ithaca on Saturday for the game, but my yearlong subscription to Cornell Athletics’ video feed, REDCast, finally paid off. Sitting down at my computer to watch the game, I knew to expect a close contest, but I didn’t expect it to be so frustrating. Less than two and a half minutes into the game, the Big Red had already built a 7-0 lead and the Light Blue had managed to turn the ball over twice. The Lions finally got on the board at the 17:27 mark with two free throws by Mark Cisco, but their problems didn’t end there. Columbia’s sloppy play continued—the team committed 11 turnovers in the first half alone—and Cornell took advantage, going up 17-7 with just under 14 minutes left in the half. Fortunately for the Lions, Cornell didn’t play so great in the first half, either, and the Light Blue trailed by just three at halftime.
The second half wasn’t as messy as the first, as Columbia had only five turnovers, but the Lions’ shooting percentage dropped precipitously after intermission. Still, the Light Blue tied it up about five minutes into the half and never trailed by more than four from that point on.
In addition to turning the ball over 16 times and shooting just 36 percent from the floor in the second half, Columbia was terrible from three-point range, going just 3-for-15. Normally a sharpshooter, freshman guard Steve Frankoski was just 2-for-7 and missed all five of his threes. While Frankoski’s offensive performance wasn’t the greatest, it was star guard Noruwa Agho that struggled the most. After scoring 20-plus points in three consecutive games, Agho had just six points and one field goal on 12 tries.
I’m not trying to be overly negative about the team—there were a lot of positives in this game as well. Sophomore point guard Brian Barbour continued to play terrifically on the offensive end of the floor, putting up a new career-high 23 points. Freshman guard Meiko Lyles, playing in just his second collegiate game, had 10 points on 3-for-3 shooting in 16 minutes of action. John Daniels, who had made just 11 of his 24 free throws before this game, made both of his shots from the charity stripe to put the Lions up by two with just over a minute remaining. Though he didn’t shoot well, Agho had six rebounds, four assists, two blocks—including a crucial one with just 56 seconds left in the game—and a steal.
So, while I’m certainly not saying the team played terribly, they are definitely capable of playing better. But that’s a good thing. Last season, it seemed like the Lions blew every game they possibly good—if everything didn’t click perfectly, they couldn’t pull out the win. Not this year though—the Light Blue’s last 11 games have been decided by six points or fewer and it has come out on top in nine of those contests. Now the team knows it can win even if its original game plan doesn’t quite work out.