The end of 2011 brought mixed results for Columbia men’s basketball as it saw its seven-game winning streak come to a close.
Following a 79-59 loss at Marist (6-7) on Tuesday—the Lion’s first defeat in more than a month—the Light Blue (8-5) bounced back for a 77-67 victory over the Lafayette Leopards (5-8) on Friday.
For most of December, defense has been the strong point of the Lions’ game play, but in the first half on Friday, the Light Blue was powerless against Lafayette’s shooters.
The Lions started the game strong, taking a quick six-point lead with the help of two treys by junior guard Brian Barbour, but they soon fell behind thanks to a barrage of three-pointers from the Leopards.
Lafayette shot 69 percent from the field and went 9-13 from beyond the arc in the first period alone, tallying 48 points with the leadership of senior guard Jim Mower, who finished with 13 points.
The Lions kept up, shooting 64 percent, but at the break they were still trailing by 11 points and in need of a change.
“We made some adjustments personnel-wise,” head coach Kyle Smith said. “We played smaller to try to match up with quickness on the shooters and evidently it helped us.”
With a revised defense, the Lions burst out into the second half with a 10-0 run that nearly erased the Leopards' lead.
With the Light Blue down 53-50 halfway through the second, sophomore guard Meiko Lyles—who only had four points before halftime—tied it up with a clutch three-pointer, paving the way for the Lions to go on another 10-0 run.
“It was the first time ever in my career I remember, as an assistant coach or head coach, having to yell at a guy to make shots,” Smith said. “I told Meiko, ‘You’re too good—we need you to make shots,’ and sure enough he did in the second half.”
The Leopards did not go down easily as senior forward Ryan Willen, who led his team with 20 points, tied the score three more times.
With two minutes remaining and the Lions leading 68-67, Lyles delivered the final dagger to Lafayette in the form of another three-pointer, sealing the victory.
Columbia’s revitalized second-half defense held the Leopards to just 19 points and 24 percent shooting, while the Lions shot 50 percent and made their way to the line more than 20 times.
Fueling the team’s comeback, Barbour finished with a game-high 21 points and seven assists while Lyles was close behind with 17.
Columbia also saw significant scoreboard contributions from its big men, juniors Mark Cisco and John Daniels, and from its freshmen, Alex Rosenberg and Noah Springwater, which was one of the biggest differences between Friday's and Tuesday’s games.
In the Light Blue’s 20-point loss to the Marist Red Foxes, only two Lions scored more than five points, while four Marist players finished in double digits.
According to Smith, the Lions were just underprepared for the athleticism of Marist on both ends of the court.
“They had good quickness on the perimeter,” he said. “We played into their hands a little bit, too. We took some ill-advised shots and that lead to some of their transition. We played with much more of a purpose against Lafayette.”
Marist jumped out to an early lead and pushed the margin to as much as 13 in the first half before Columbia began slowly chipping away at the deficit.
By halftime, the Lions were only down 36-33 and they continued their comeback at the start of the second, taking a one-point lead with 16:33 remaining in the game.
But that was as close as the Light Blue would come to getting the win, as the Red Foxes went on a 26-6 run to quell any possibility of a Columbia comeback. Junior guard Devin Price led all shooters with 22 points and freshman guard Chavaughn Lewis scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half.
"The Marist loss was humbling for us,” Smith said. “We hadn’t experienced defeat in a long time and when the game was tied in the second half with a little over 15 minutes to go, we thought we’d be OK.”
Barbour led the Lions again with 15 points and Cisco was close behind with 14, but Lyles and Rosenberg were uncharacteristically quiet. Even more surprising was that the Lions were only 3-14 from beyond the arc, their worst performance from three-point range all season.
Though the Lions were strong on the boards, outrebounding the Red Foxes 14-7 on the offensive end, the lack of points from the Light Blue’s supporting cast ultimately led to the loss, snapping the team’s seven-game win streak—its longest since the 1981-1982 season.
Smith acknowledged the 18-day break between the Marist match and the team’s previous game—a win over Long Island on Dec. 10—as having been responsible, in part, for the team’s lackluster performance on Tuesday.
But with Friday’s win, he expects the players to get back into a rhythm and routine as the first day of league play, Jan. 13, looms near.
“I tell everyone there are always funny scores right before Christmas and right after,” Smith said. “Now we just have to get through New Year’s.”
The Lions will kick off 2012 with their first home game of the year against Fairleigh Dickinson on Monday at 7 p.m.