Spike Lee and Jeremy Lin may not have been in the crowd, but Saturday was still a special night for the men’s basketball team’s four seniors, who ended their career in light blue with a 61-55 win over Dartmouth.
“It’s great to go out on a win like that,” senior co-captain Steve Egee said. “We’ve had some tough losses, especially in-league, and to get a win to end the season, and especially the four seniors’ careers, it’s really something special.”
The Lions (15-15, 4-10 Ivy) had a chance to sweep their final weekend. The night before the Dartmouth game, the Light Blue took Ivy Champion Harvard (26-4, 12-2 Ivy) to overtime in front of a sold-out crowd of 2,702 people—including Lee and Lin.
The Crimson jumped out to an early 18-8 lead in the first half thanks to an impressive shooting performance. Harvard knocked down 75 percent of its shots before halftime, but Columbia’s offense kept up, hitting 52.4 percent of its shots. After the first 20 minutes, the score was 34-30.
“We worked on defense all week,” junior point guard and co-captain Brian Barbour said. “I thought our defense was right there. They were just making some tough shots and playing really well.”
The two teams continued to trade baskets throughout the second half. A layup by junior center Mark Cisco and a jumper in the paint by Barbour put the Lions up by three—their largest lead of the game—with just under 14 minutes to play.
The game remained close for a while, but it seemed like Harvard was pulling away in the final minutes of regulation. A tip-in by senior forward Keith Wright, who had been bothering the Light Blue the entire game, put the Crimson up by six with just over four minutes to play. But thanks to a couple of clutch shots by Barbour, the Lions tied the game at 62 with 33 seconds to play.
“Brian was being Brian,” head coach Kyle Smith said of Barbour’s play against Harvard. “He has to play that way to give us a chance.” Barbour finished the game with 23 points and five assists.
The Crimson still had a chance to win, though, and Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker called a timeout with 23 seconds to play. The Lions went with a zone defense on the play and looked to trap the first pass and force a turnover.
“I just knew if we sat back out there, the only two outcomes were overtime or we lose, and I didn’t like those,” Smith said.
While they didn’t get the turnover, the Lions got their defensive stop when Harvard senior guard Oliver McNally missed a three-pointer, sending the game to overtime.
The Light Blue seemed to run out of steam after regulation ended, as the Crimson led by as many as 11 points and won the game 77-70.
“We’re a young team that’s just right there,” Barbour said after the game. “No need for excuses, but we got to find a way to get over the hump and finish on a good note against Dartmouth tomorrow.”
The Lions struggled to contain Wright and junior forward Kyle Casey the whole night, as the pair of big men combined for 35 points and 12 rebounds.
“They played really well, and that, I guess, ultimately led to them winning,” Cisco said after the game.
While the next night went much better for Columbia, it was not an easy win. Like nearly all of the Light Blue’s conference games, the score was tight throughout the whole game. Both teams struggled offensively in the first half, with the Lions hitting just 34.6 percent of their shots and the Big Green just 36.4 percent. At the half, Columbia led 23-22.
“I think there was just a little bit of a hangover as much as anything, and I was a bit worried about that,” Smith said, explaining the slow start.
Sophomore guard Meiko Lyles took over in the second half, scoring 20 of his 23 points after the break. He was 4-of-4 from beyond the arc in the second half.
“He’s done that for us in a lot of games where he’s taken over and just banged a bunch of shots—no different tonight,” Smith said.
His biggest bucket of the night came with 1:34 left on the clock. After Dartmouth countered a Barbour trey with a three-point play by freshman forward Jvonte Brooks, Lyles found himself open and fired up a three, shaking off Dartmouth once again and putting Columbia up 57-53.
“I felt like I was open for a split second. And coach, he puts a lot of confidence in us to rise to the occasion, and I felt like it was a good shot there,” Lyles said.
Lyles’ three-pointer was followed by a hook shot by Cisco that put the Lions up 59-53 with 41 seconds to play, essentially putting the game out of reach for the Big Green. Cisco had a quiet game, but finished the night with 15 points and nine rebounds.
“He’s kind of a warthog—he needs both halves to get it going,” Smith said of Cisco after the game. “His size, he’s flopping around out there, fundamentally unsound, somehow it ends up that’s what his line looks like: 15 and nine.”
Thanks to some strong performances by the younger players, seniors Chris Crockett, Matt Johnson, Blaise Staab, and Egee all got a win in their final collegiate game. Smith started all four players on their final night in Levien and praised them as a group after the game for raising the bar for the program.
“College basketball is great for what it teaches you,” Smith said. “You’re going to be tested mentally and physically, and how you handle adversity and how you handle success. These guys, although their roles have varied over their careers and even this year, they kept a good attitude and worked hard.”
Smith had particularly kind words for his senior captain Egee, who was sitting next to his coach in the postgame press conference.
“The guys look up to him, and even though he didn’t play as much as he would have liked or whatever, he was always there and always is awesome,” Smith said. “So, he’ll do well in life.”