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Men's basketball will take on Cornell from Levien Gymnasium in the team's Ivy League home opener. Tip is at 7 p.m.

Men’s basketball will travel to Princeton and Penn this weekend to open conference play and will seek to extend its recent two-game winning streak.

Princeton (7-8, 0-1 Ivy), the defending Ivy League champions, defeated Columbia (3-10, 0-0 Ivy) in both matchups last year, while Columbia split victories with Penn (10-5, 1-0 Ivy), each team winning one game at home.

This season, Penn registered the best nonconference record in the Ancient Eight, finishing at , 9-5, while Princeton started the year with a 7-7 record in non-Ivy games. Penn and Princeton faced off last Saturday to kick off Ivy play with the Quakers claiming a 76-70 victory over the Tigers—Princeton’s first loss in Ivy League play since the 2015-16 season.

Recently, the Lions snapped a nine-game losing streak on Dec. 30 by defeating Maine 83-71. Starting guards Quinton Adlesh, a junior, and Mike Smith, a sophomore, led the way for the Light Blue as they tallied 16 points each and recorded seven and eight assists, respectively. The Light Blue continued this success against Division III Sarah Lawrence on Jan. 6 with an 87-42 victory.

These victories marked a departure from their nine-game losing stretch that was characterized by poor defense against the 3-point shot and an inability to close out tight games. In a sign of adjustments made by head coach Jim Engles, Columbia held Maine and Sarah Lawrence to 8-27 and 7-32 respectively from beyond the arc.

Smith has been the most effective offensive player for the Lions this season, averaging 18.1 points and 4.8 assists per game. Additionally, Smith leads the Ivy League with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.3 and is third in the conference with 1.5 steals per game. Junior forward Lukas Meisner has provided support from the frontcourt, averaging 11.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

The return of senior guard Kyle Castlin has also contributed to the Lions’ recent success. After starting against Villanova in the season opener and registering 10 points, six rebounds, and four assists, he was forced to sit out the following 10 games with an elbow injury. After the 18-day layover between games against Boston College and Maine, Castlin was able to recover from his injury, scoring eight points and grabbing three rebounds in his first game back. The Light Blue will look to Castlin for productive minutes off the bench this weekend.

The Lions are second in the Ivy League in 3-point field goal percentage (37.2 percent) and first in 3-point makes with 10.6 per game. This success from downtown is headed by Adlesh who is shooting 43.5 percent and making 2.3 3-pointers per contest. The 3-point battle will be important this weekend as Princeton shoots 39 percent from deep but only allows a 36.1 opposing 3-point percentage, while Penn shoots 35.6 percent from downtown with their opponents shooting 31.3 percent.

The Lions have struggled defensively this year, allowing opposing teams 76.2 points per game. So far this season, Princeton and Penn have averaged 70.0 and 79.2 points per game, respectively, and could both prove stronger than the Lions’ average preseason opponent.

Despite its shortcomings, the Light Blue’s defense has shown promise in some areas this year, managing to force turnovers with a margin of +0.2 and average 3.9 blocks and 6.2 steals per game. In their defensive schemes, the Lions will seek to contain Princeton guard Devin Cannady, who is averaging 18.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, along with Penn guard Ryan Betley, who is leading his team with 15.2 points per game.

The Light Blue will travel to Princeton on Friday to face off against the Tigers, with tipoff set for 8 p.m. in the L. Stockwell Jadwin Gymnasium, before taking on the Quakers in Penn’s Palestra at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

alexander.brett@columbiaspectator.com | @CUSpecSports

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