Men’s basketball put together what might be its most complete performance this season and cruised to its first Ivy League victory of the season, defeating Cornell 88-62 on Saturday.
The Lions (4-12, 1-2 Ivy) orchestrated a balanced offensive attack as five players scored in double figures. The Light Blue was led by junior forward Lukas Meisner, who tallied 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc. While the team has previously leaned heavily on sophomore guard Mike Smith, the Chicago native took just nine shots and tallied a season-low nine points and five assists.
But as balanced as the offense was, head coach Jim Engles was perhaps more pleased with the team’s defensive effort, as the Lions forced 20 turnovers and held Cornell to just 62 points.
“Not a lot you can really argue with, I thought we played really well defensively,” Engles said. “As much as the offense was up and down, our success is really dictated by our defense. And I think today was the first time we played 40 minutes of defense all season long.”
Senior guard Kyle Castlin, who was active on the defensive end for the entire game, echoed Engles’ sentiments.
“In practice we’ve really just been focusing on defense, getting deflections and rebounding the ball when shots are missed,” he said. “So, I just tried to come in and get those deflections and be there for my teammates.”
After sloppy play and two turnovers by both sides, Smith opened up the scoring for the Lions with a baseline jumper with 18:31 remaining in the first half. Smith, who leads the team in scoring with 18.4 points per game, passed up numerous open looks throughout the game, and finished in single digits for the first time against a Division I opponent this season.
Behind three-pointers by Meisner at 16:35 and junior guard Quinton Adlesh at 15:31, the Light Blue jumped out to an early 10-4 lead. This early success would continue throughout the game as the Lions demonstrated strong ball movement and exceptional three-point shooting. They shot 16-28 from beyond the arc and registered 18 assists. In comparison, Cornell (6-10, 0-3 Ivy) shot 7-23 from three-point range and logged only 10 assists.
In the first half, Castlin provided a spark off the bench. With 6:40 remaining in the first period, Castlin completed an and-one layup to extend Columbia’s lead to 30-15. He finished the game with 10 points and five rebounds.
Heading into the matchup, Morgan had been the most productive player for his team, averaging 23.5 points per game, good for the sixth-highest average in all of Division I. A three-pointer by Morgan with 1:02 remaining in the first half reduced the Columbia lead to 40-29. Entering the halftime break, with Columbia leading 43-29, he had 16 points and one assist. Halftime adjustments allowed the Light Blue to slow Morgan’s production as he scored just four points and dished out three assists in the second half to finish with 20 for the contest.
The turnover differential was another defining feature of the Columbia victory, as the Lions forced 20 turnovers, including nine by Cornell’s starting guards Morgan and Terrance McBride. Although the Lions themselves committed 16 turnovers, they outscored Cornell 22-16 in points off turnovers, and took 13 more shots than the Big Red, finishing at 52.5 percent from the field for the contest.
In the middle of the second half, Cornell pulled within 16, reducing the deficit to 62-46 behind two free throws from Morgan with 10:06 left of action. On the next possession, Columbia first-year guard Gabe Stefanini responded with an and-one layup down the middle of the lane, and Cornell’s mini run came to a quick halt, as the Big Red would score just 16 points over the last 10 minutes of the contest.
In the second half, Smith logged just 10 minutes of action, a marked departure from his high usage rate seen earlier in the season. Despite him being on the bench for extended periods, other players were able to step up in his absence. A three-pointer by Meisner with 9:22 remaining followed by a trey from senior guard Nate Hickman with 8:08 left extended the Columbia lead to 71-51.
Hickman finished with 14 points, bouncing back after struggling to score the ball for the majority of the season. He praised his teammates, noting that they have maintained trust in him despite the up and down performances.
In the final minutes of action, the Lions’ substitutes continued the team’s offensive success. Junior guard Peter Barba knocked down a three-pointer with 40 seconds remaining, the final points of the game for the Light Blue. This shot capped off the Lions’ 88-62 victory.
After the resounding win, men’s basketball will travel to Ithaca next weekend to take on Cornell once again, hoping to bring its record to .500 in Ancient Eight play. But for now, the team can revel in a well-played game, showcasing the potential which has been mounting all season long.
“It feels good, it gives you confidence,” Hickman said of the victory. “But at this point we’re focused on trying to get back [to .500] and do it again next week.”