Updated on Feb. 4 at 1:10 a.m.
PRINCETON, N.J.—For the third straight game, it looked like a slow start would ultimately doom Columbia men’s basketball.
Unlike the last two games against Cornell and Pen, the Light Blue shot well early on in Saturday night’s game against Princeton, hovering around 50 percent. But the Tigers drilled three after three and two after two, shooting nearly 60 percent in the first half and quickly opening up a double-digit lead.
Regardless of the cause, the result was the same. Columbia (9-9, 1-3 Ivy) fought back and played better in the second half but ultimately lost its third straight tight game, 72-66, to Princeton (10-7, 3-0 Ivy).
“We shot over 50 percent from the field, only 10 turnovers, eight for 11 from the three-point line. We need a monster, 12-foot Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hulk named Brendan [Connolly] and a pump-fake three from T.J. [Bray] to get out of there,” Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson said. “We’re thrilled.”
The Tigers came out of the gate on fire from the field. At one point, they were 10 of 14, including six for six from beyond the arc.
“It sounds crazy, but I felt okay,” Lions head coach Kyle Smith said. “We stayed with our game plan. We didn’t panic.”
The Lions were able to chip away at the Tigers’ lead. Sophomore forward Cory Osetkowski came in and scored six points. Sophomore forward Alex Rosenberg scored six points as well, all around the rim. Freshman guard Maodo Lo capped off the rally with a three with about 30 seconds left in the first half to give Columbia the lead, 36-35.
Lo easily had the best performance of his young career. As usual, he made an impact defensively, but he also played well offensively by using crossover dribbles to open up lanes and by driving to the rim to score 16 points. He even played some sequences as the point guard on the floor for Columbia, in the place of senior Brian Barbour or freshman Grant Mullins.
“We see that stuff in practice, where he asserts himself and he’s tough to handle,” Smith said of Lo. “Hopefully it’s another breakthrough game for him, where he becomes more consistent in that way.”
The second half was fairly even, as Princeton took a slim lead that Columbia then tied up. But the Lions were unable to pull ahead, and, late in the game, the Tigers finally got the pivotal break they needed to pull away.
The Lions’ sophomore guard, Steve Frankoski, drove from the left and tried a long hook shot, which was off the mark. Senior center Mark Cisco tipped the ball in but was called for a foul, negating the basket and giving Princeton star forward Ian Hummer two foul shots. The call was reversed to make the basket count, but after further deliberation, it was reversed again in Princeton’s favor. Hummer made both free throws, and what could have been a three-point game turned into a seven-point game.
Columbia came within four with 30 seconds to go, even drawing a backcourt travel on Princeton to regain possession of the ball. But Barbour missed a three, and the Tigers hit enough free throws down the stretch to seal the game.
“We’re just fighting that winning culture we have now,” Barbour said. “It’s been a long time since Columbia was a good team and really at the top of the league. It’s a hard thing to fight and get over that hump.”
Since the league expanded to a 14-game conference schedule in 1954, teams with 10-4 records have won the conference crown only six times—most recently in 1987. Staring down their current 1-3 Ivy record, the Lions can barely afford to lose another game if they plan to win an Ivy title. They are back at home next weekend to host Dartmouth and Harvard.