In a conference season plagued by second-half collapses, a new trend has emerged for the men’s basketball team (14-14, 3-9 Ivy). The Light Blue has found itself down early in the last three games, and has been unable to complete the comeback effort.
On Feb. 18, the Lions lost in overtime to Penn 61-59 after falling behind 10-0 in the opening minutes. The Light Blue’s first points in that game did not come until 16:52, when senior forward Blaise Staab hit a jumper in the paint.
Things got off to an even worse start for Columbia in Friday’s game at Yale. With just over 11 minutes left to play in the first half, freshman forward Brandon Sherrod hit a jumper to put the Bulldogs up 20-5. The Lions were able to close the gap to 30-22 by halftime and tied it up twice in the second half, but closing that early deficit took a lot of effort.
“We dug ourselves too big of a hole to get back from early on,” junior point guard Brian Barbour said. “We can’t afford to give a good team a 20-5 lead and then try to fight back—even though we tied it up. It still hurts exerting so much energy trying to get back into it and then having to fight at the end.”
With five minutes remaining in the game at New Haven, Conn., the Light Blue tied it at 58 with a jumper by freshman center Cory Osetkowski off an assist from Barbour. The Lions kept it close over the next few minutes, but the Bulldogs went on to win 75-67.
“We didn’t play well to start the game,” head coach Kyle Smith said after the game. “Down 20-5, you can’t dig yourself a hole and expect a chance to win.”
The next night at Brown, with the game tied at 10 with 14:25 to go in the first half, it seemed like the Lions had put their slow start behind them. But then back-to-back threes by the Bears’ guards senior Jean Harris and sophomore Sean McGonagill started a 22-6 run that opened the game up for Brown. The Bears went into the locker room with a 43-26 lead.
“It really starts to wear on you, especially in a game like this when we’re down by a lot at halftime,” junior center Mark Cisco said on Saturday. “It’s pretty rough but we need to figure out a way to win these next two games.”
The Light Blue was able to cut the deficit to 11 twice in the second half, but that was the closest it would get, despite outscoring Brown 52-51. The Bears won the game on Saturday 94-78.
“We can’t put ourselves in a hole like that,” freshman forward Alex Rosenberg said on Saturday. “We’re good enough to even it up—even last night we had a chance to win. We almost got back in this one, but we should never put ourselves in a hole in the first place. We need to come out stronger and not dig ourselves a deep hole.”
Going into the last weekend of the season, Smith emphasized the importance of starting strong—something he believes his squad has generally been very good at. Even though the Lions have clawed their way back into many conference games, Smith acknowledges that falling behind early is problematic.
“We’ve shown the ability to come back, but I don’t think that’s our best chance to win,” Smith said.
One reason he cited for the early deficits this weekend was the absence of junior forward John Daniels. Daniels, who is out with a shoulder injury, is one of the Light Blue’s strongest defensive players. Smith said there’s a 50 percent chance Daniels will play this weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth.