The men’s basketball team entered the past weekend with a three-game losing streak and something to prove in its two games against Dartmouth and Harvard.
After the Lions dropped a 60-57 decision to the Big Green (6-14, 2-4 Ivy), the perennial cellar dweller of the conference, the outlook against the first-place Crimson on Sunday was grim. But lights-out shooting and strong defense helped the Lions (10-10, 2-4 Ivy) to a 78-63 upset of Harvard (13-7, 5-1 Ivy) in front of a loud home crowd.
“As a team we just felt that we needed to get off the hump and break through,” sophomore forward Cory Osetkowski said. “We needed a win, no matter what, so we just went balls to the wall and laid it all on the line.”
Osetkowski played one of his strongest games of the season, with 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench against the Crimson, but it was guard Steve Frankoski who led the Light Blue’s charge. The sophomore shot 5-7 from three-point range and finished with a game-high 27 points, 20 of which came in the first half.
“I thought Frankoski was just an amazing offensive weapon that they had today, and he shot the ball very well, and got them out of the blocks early and had us on our heels, to be honest, throughout the game,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said after the game.
Frankoski was not the only Columbia player with a hot hand on Sunday. As a team, the Lions shot better than 50 percent from the field and from three-point range, and went 13-15 from the charity stripe.
In contrast, the Lions had one of their worst shooting nights against the Big Green on Friday, when they hit only three of their 20 three-point attempts. According to Frankoski, the team’s positive attitude put them in a position to bounce back.
“I think it’s definitely a mental thing, kind of relaxing and knowing that we shoot so much—just stay with your shot and don’t worry about it,” he said.
In addition to finding it difficult to stop Columbia’s shooting, the Crimson struggled with problems on offense, giving up 13 turnovers.
While Columbia’s strong defense was responsible for some of those lost possessions, Amaker admitted there were many unforced mistakes made by his team.
“I thought there were a lot of breakdowns in communication, and they took advantage of them, too,” the six-year head coach said. “A lot of teams have those things, and that’s the game of basketball, but there are teams that punish you for it, and that’s the difference.”
Even with Columbia’s great shooting—boosted by strong supporting performances from sophomore forward Alex Rosenberg and freshman guard Maodo Lo—the Crimson trailed by only four points at the half.
Though the Light Blue came out strong in the second and extended its lead, Harvard relied on guard Siyani Chambers and forward Wesley Saunders, who had 12 and 27 points, respectively, to keep the score close.
A difficult layup by Chambers with 9:04 left in the game brought Harvard within four, but that was as close as the Crimson would come to taking the lead.
With 3:19 left, Lo drained a corner three to give Columbia a 20-point advantage, its biggest lead of the game.
“We were in pretty good shape before that, but that was a nice dagger,” Light Blue head coach Kyle Smith said.
Columbia’s high level of play against Harvard came as a surprise after Friday’s heartbreaking loss to Dartmouth—the first time the Big Green had won an Ivy game on the road in four seasons.
With 31 seconds remaining, Dartmouth up by three, and the ball in Columbia’s possession, the Lions had a chance to send the game to overtime. But in a similar fashion to the Lions’ other close Ivy losses this season, they failed to make a buzzer beater, as Frankoski missed two heavily contested threes.
“I think he feels bad that he couldn’t give us a chance to win, but there were a lot of guys who missed shots before that to get to that point,” Smith said. “We got the look we were trying to get … and you’ve just got to bury the shot.”
The Big Green had an impressive night from beyond the arc, especially guard Alex Mitola, who shot 4-5 from three-point range on his way to scoring 17 points. His classmate, forward Connor Boehm, also made an impact, finishing with a game-high 20 points.
Boehm and the Big Green’s other forwards exploited some defensive weaknesses in the Light Blue’s frontcourt, which hurt Columbia down the stretch.
“I thought zone helped us, got us back in the game, and then a couple times they got in the high post and we didn’t stay with Boehm,” Smith said.
The Lions’ biggest offensive contributor was Mark Cisco, who had 16 points and nine rebounds. But the senior center’s good shooting night was not enough to make up for some uncharacteristically low scoring from his fellow starters, including Barbour, who had seven points and seven assists.
More concerning than Friday’s loss was an injury sustained by freshman guard Grant Mullins, who fell to the floor at the top of the key with 18:04 left in the second half.
Mullins seemed to be favoring his right ankle, and required the help of the trainer and a coach to limp off the court. Mullins did not re-enter the game, and though he helped the team warm up on Sunday, he was not in uniform. Mullins’ status for next weekend is still unknown.