Updated on Jan. 28 at 1:20 a.m.
Columbia staged a gutsy comeback on Saturday night but was unable to come away with a win in its Ivy League home opener, falling to the Big Red 66-63.
For both teams, the game got off to a slow offensive start. When Cornell (9-10, 1-1 Ivy) made its first bucket five minutes into the game, the score was 4-2 Columbia. Columbia (9-7, 1-1 Ivy) hit a free throw to increase its lead to three before Cornell caught fire and reeled off a 13-0 run. Columbia regrouped and cut the deficit to four, but the Big Red closed out the half strongly and was up 31-19 at the break.
“We dug ourselves such a hole that it was going to be tough,” Lions head coach Kyle Smith said. “They were able to dictate the way they wanted to play.”
Cornell’s bench was a significant factor in the first half and continued to come up big for the visitors throughout the game. The Big Red subs ended up outscoring their Columbia counterparts 45-19.
“Our bench has been strong for us all year,” Cornell head coach Bill Courtney said. “We play about 10-11 guys, and there’s really not a lot of separation between our first five and our second five.”
Neither team was able to gain a decisive edge in the early minutes of the second half. Cornell maintained its double-digit lead but was unable to get up by more than 15.
Columbia got a couple of big momentum plays out of freshman guard Maodo Lo and senior forward John Daniels. Lo hit a couple of big threes, and Daniels was a force to be reckoned with on the boards. Daniels also added an and-one dunk that provided a shot of adrenaline to the Levien Gymnasium crowd.
“I was really hoping to kind of jump-start the team,” Daniels said of his dunk,of his dunk which was No. 3 on SportsCenter’s top 10 plays on Sunday. “I know I felt energized after it, and the team did too.”
“But we just need to execute more. You can have all the energy, but if you don’t execute, it’s just really futile,” Daniels added.
Led by senior point guard Brian Barbour, the Light Blue slowly clawed its way back into the game in the game’s final 10 minutes. With 8:09 to play, Barbour cut the Big Red lead to single digits. Fewer than three minutes later, a Barbour three cut the lead to six, and with just over 3:15 to play, the senior got his team within five.
A tremendous three by Lo brought Columbia within two with fewer than three minutes to play, but Cornell held the Lions at bay until an old-fashioned three by Barbour brought Columbia within one with 8.5 seconds left in the game.
The Light Blue got a scare when Barbour hit the floor hard after getting fouled, but he was eventually was able to get back up and hit the free throw.
A pair of free throws gave Cornell a three-point lead in the game’s final seconds, and the Lions were unable to pull off the miracle win as the Big Red closed out a 66-63 victory.