While the fact that Columbia held only slim leads in the final minutes of both games could be cause for concern, head coach Kyle Smith said he isn’t too worried heading into this weekend’s games at Yale (7-9, 1-1 Ivy) and Brown (9-7, 1-1 Ivy).
“They were taking the shots we were OK with,” Smith said. “We just hoped that if we stayed with our game plan ... it would give us the best chance to win.”
The Light Blue’s main strength all year long has been its defense. It ranks 22nd in the country in opponent’s points per game and 62nd when adjusted for the strength of opponents faced, according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.
While Cornell went with a smaller lineup, Smith said he expects the Lions to be tested inside by the Bulldogs and Bears.
“We gotta be able to hang onto our guts,” he said. “They’re going to give you a hard push on the boards, a hard push in transition offensively.”
Smith noted that Yale’s 6-foot-8 forward Justin Sears and “unappreciated” 6-foot-4 guard Javier Duren could cause problems for Columbia. While Duren possesses above-average size for a guard, Sears is the most dangerous of several reliable frontcourt options for the Bulldogs. While juniors Cory Osetkowski and Alex Rosenberg and first-year Luke Petrasek have all made valuable contributions in the Light Blue’s frontcourt rotation, Smith said he is looking for one more player to join that group.
Columbia will need all the help it can get down low against Brown big men Cedric Kuakumensah and Rafael Maia. With 10.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, Maia is nearly averaging a double-double, while Kuakumensah is the reigning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year.
The Lions went a combined 1-3 against Brown and Yale last year. After surrendering the game-winning three with 10 seconds left at Brown, the Lions were dominated in New Haven, getting outrebounded 33-20 and outscored 34-8 in the paint.
The loss to Yale did represent a turning point for then-first-year guard Maodo Lo. Following the defeat in New Haven, he scored in double figures for four straight games, including a 20-point effort in a Lion win over the Bulldogs at Levien.
Things went sour for Columbia the day after, though, when Brown pulled off its second straight last-minute win against the Lions.
Bear guard Sean McGonagill wasn’t the one to deal the death blow in either game, but he has certainly given Columbia trouble in the past.
Smith said the trio of Lo and fellow sophomore guards Grant Mullins and Isaac Cohen could share defensive responsibilities on McGonagill, who is the runaway Ivy scoring leader, averaging over 19 points per game.
While he noted that Cohen was very effective covering Nolan Cressler—Cornell’s scoring leader—the last two weekends, Smith mentioned that guarding the smaller and quicker McGonagill poses different problems than guarding Cressler.
“We gotta get some different looks, different coverages with different guys,” Smith said.
Tipoff against Yale is slated for 7 p.m. on Friday in New Haven, while tipoff against Brown is slated for 6 p.m. on Saturday in Providence.
Eli Schultz contributed reporting.