The 61-56 victory over Cornell on Saturday was an important step forward for the Columbia men’s basketball team, proving it could stave off the Big Red’s second-half comeback.
But as has been the case recently, nearly all the Light Blue’s points came from its starting five, with the Columbia bench contributing just one basket—a three-pointer by freshman guard Noah Springwater.
In contrast, Cornell’s bench tallied 17 points with nine players contributing to the team’s total.
While the discrepancy between Cornell’s and Columbia’s bench production may have been insignificant to Saturday’s result, it is part of a larger trend. In Columbia’s three conference games this year, the bench has been responsible for only 19 of the team’s 183 points.
According to head coach Kyle Smith, part of the reason the Light Blue bench only accounts for 10 percent of the team’s league points is that the Lions’ starters have been dominating the minutes on the floor.
“I think there are four guys that have emerged that I’d like to get a steady 27 to 30 minutes each game,” he said.
Against Cornell, junior guard Brian Barbour, junior center Mark Cisco, and sophomore guard Meiko Lyles all played more than 35 minutes, and in total, only seven Lions saw more than 10 minutes on the court.
Though those three starters carried the team with their double-digit scoring, fatigue will be a bigger factor in future weekends when Columbia has back-to-back games. In those games, the bench will need to play a much larger role than it did against the Big Red.
Other Ancient Eight schools boast benches that have had a much larger role in their respective Ivy League games.
Harvard’s bench has provided 48 of the team’s 117 points (40 percent) while Yale’s bench accounts for 27 of the Bulldogs’ total 141 (19 percent)—and both the Crimson and the Bulldogs have only played two conference matches.
Even Cornell—the only Ivy other than Columbia to have already played three league games—has had more activity from the bench, with its substitutes providing 48 of the Big Red’s 175 points (27 percent).
Despite the lack of points made by Columbia’s bench relative to others in the Ancient Eight, Smith argues that the Lions’ substitutes have made an impact in less noticeable ways.
“We played our depth a little bit more against Cornell as far as helping with the ball handling,” Smith said. “It’s not going to show up much on the stat sheet in terms of points. We were really good defensively. We stayed fresher and Dean gave us a lot of ball pressure.”
Junior guard Dean Kowalski may have only recorded one assist and one rebound during his 11 minutes against Cornell, but Kowalski took the ball down the court in transition and kept constant defensive pressure on the Big Red’s shooters.
In effect, Kowalski relieved Barbour of some of the ball-handling burden that the junior captain has borne almost exclusively since the injury to Noruwa Agho at the beginning of the season.
Substitutes also made an impact against Princeton, when senior guard Steve Egee and senior forward Blaise Staab each tallied seven rebounds for the Lions.
Still, many of the Light Blue players have seen limited minutes since conference play began, most significantly freshman center Cory Osetkowski and senior guard Chris Crockett, both of whom played much more earlier in the season.
According to Smith, players like Osetkowski haven’t been getting time on the floor because the Lions have had to rely on certain lineups to contend with the playing styles of their opponents.
“I think it’s mostly situational,” the second-year head coach said. “It’s tough for those guys. They’ve been told, ‘Hey, you’ve got to hang in there.’ They’ve had great attitudes about it and they’re practicing well.”
Smith hopes that these players will have their opportunities in coming games, but regardless of which substitutes get floor time, success will be difficult if the Columbia bench does not increase its point production.
“We need some production there for sure and we’ll hopefully find it,” he said.
Columbia will have another shot to break the Big Red’s full-court pressure when they head to Ithaca this weekend.