Men’s basketball limped back to Morningside Heights after two consecutive defeats this weekend, falling 72-56 at Princeton and 77-71 at Penn to begin the Ivy League slate.
The Lions (3-12, 0-2 Ivy) began Ancient Eight play winless but faced off against the Ivy League’s top teams, the Quakers (12-5, 3-0 Ivy) and the Tigers (9-8, 2-1 Ivy), continuing the Light Blue’s string of poorly timed matchups dating back to nonconference play, when Columbia started the season with seven consecutive road contests.
On Friday night, the Lions returned to Jadwin Gymnasium looking to build on last year’s narrow 61-59 defeat to the eventual Ivy Champs, Princeton. But this season, the Lions were blitzed from the get-go, as Princeton dominated Columbia both offensively and defensively in the first half, executing its patented “Princeton offense” to perfection and stifling any and every Light Blue opportunity down the stretch.
Columbia came into Friday’s contest as the winners of two straight games, albeit against inferior competition in Maine and Division III Sarah Lawrence.
Shooting just 21.2 percent from the field in the first half against the Tigers, the Lions struggled out of the gate to find any sort of rhythm on the offensive end. The Light Blue’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Mike Smith, went 0 for 8 from the field and 0 for 4 from beyond the arc in the first half. The Lions were paced by junior guard Quinton Adlesh, who had nine points on three treys in the first half.
Adlesh noted that he felt confident on the floor despite the intimidating presence of an away gym, adding that the team was likely a few more made baskets away from making the game much closer down the stretch.
“I think that we had a lot of good looks,” Adlesh said. “I think that some of the looks that we were getting were just as good as the shots they [Princeton] were getting. It just seemed like some of ours weren’t falling.”
Head coach Jim Engles, attempting to right the ship in his second year at the helm of the Lions, echoed similar sentiments, praising Princeton’s defensive game plan and execution.
“It’s probably a combination of being on the road and Princeton’s defense,” Engles said in explanation of the Lion’s poor offensive start. “They play a pack defense, so they slow you down. They’re very physical when you drive, and they’re there on every closeout, so I really did actually think we did some decent things.”
As the Lions struggled on offense, Princeton’s offensive executed with excruciating efficiency, particularly from beyond the arc. While the team’s slow-moving offense ranks among the bottom 20 teams of Division I in pace of play, according to kenpom.com, five Tigers players shot nine three- pointers on Friday, helping Princeton to an 18-point advantage at the break.
In the second half, the Lions had an opportunity to cut the deficit to single digits but ultimately were stifled to a season-low 56 points, despite shooting 50 percent from the floor.
Against Penn the next day, the Lions similarly struggled in the first half again, shooting under 30 percent in the opening frame for the second consecutive contest at 29.7 percent from the floor. Once again heating up in the second half, Smith and Adlesh combined to score 42 of the Lions’ 71 total points for the contest.
On the defensive end, however, themes from nonconference play recurred for the Lionsreturned for the Lions. Both Princeton and Penn capitalized upon strong performances from beyond the arc, making 15 and 12 threes respectively and putting the game out of reach for Columbia in each contest.
“They’re tough to play against because they pick you apart,” Engles said of Princeton. “They made 15 threes, so we talked about trying to limit their threes, but some of the threes they made were really tough.”
Moreover, the Light Blue struggled to fend off star players from both Princeton and Penn as Devin Cannady and A.J. Brodeur tortured the Lions on consecutive nights, registering performances that garnered praise from Engles recognized as praiseworthy. Engles noted that Cannady in particular made very difficult shots, while Adlesh commented that Cannady’s command of the Tigers’ offense made the team tough to guard in space.
Besides Adlesh’s strong performance in each contest, perhaps the silver lining for the Lions was the signs of improvement from Smith, as the sophomore reached double digits for the 24th consecutive game against Division I opponents. While Smith has taken a majority of the shots in each game—kenpom.com ranks Smith 91st among all Division I players in percentage of possessions used—he has proven inconsistent in accuracy on the field.
While Smith shot three for 14 against Princeton, he improved his performance dramatically against Penn, showcasing remarkable accuracy in the famed Palestra with an 11 for 23 performance from the floor. Engles once again relied heavily upon Smith, as the second-year coach continued to push the point guard in 34 and 40 minutes played on back-to-back nights.
The Lions will bring their 0-2 record back to Morningside Heights for the team’s Ivy League home opener against Cornell on Saturday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.