Men’s basketball pulled off a thrilling 83-76 comeback upset against Harvard at home on Friday, following up the win with a 77-74 defeat of Dartmouth in the final seconds of Saturday’s game.
Initially things looked troublesome for the Light Blue (6-13, 3-3 Ivy), as the Crimson (10-11, 5-1 Ivy) came out firing on all cylinders, and Harvard sophomore forward Seth Towns tallied ten quick points to help his team take an early 17-6 lead.
The Light Blue began the game with a zone defense, largely as an attempt to slow down Towns, who is a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-7-inches, but the Crimson’s sharp ball movement picked it apart. Harvard’s primary shooters, Towns and junior guard Corey Johnson, were able to get looks at will; at times, a simple cross court skip pass would result in a wide open triple.
By the halfway mark of the first half, Harvard’s lead had swelled to 15, but the Light Blue didn’t fold. Columbia switched into a full court match-up zone press, disrupting Harvard’s offensive flow.
Senior guard Kyle Castlin forced a couple key turnovers in the latter half of the first period that slowed Havard’s offensive momentum and gave the Lions some much-needed easy baskets. The Light Blue cut the lead down to as little as four throughout the period, but a late triple from first-year forward Danilo Djuricic gave Harvard a 41-35 advantage at the break.
The Light Blue came into the second half reenergized, and less than five minutes in, Columbia took its first lead of the contest, 47-46. While both teams remained competitive until the final seconds of the game, the Lions fed off the sustained energy in Levien Gymnasium.
“It was a great effort by our guys from start to finish,” head coach Jim Engles said. “I thought we executed at a really high level at the end of the game.”
For the first time in his collegiate career, sophomore guard Mike Smith, the team’s leading scorer at 17.2 points per game, didn’t start, playing only six minutes in the first half. Despite being a surprising non factor in the early going, he found his rhythm in the second half, playing all 20 minutes, while scoring 14 of his 16 points, including a couple crucial triples in crunch time.
Smith was supported heavily by his teammates in a total team effort. Junior guard Quinton Adlesh tallied a team high 20 points, junior forward Lukas Meisner added 16 of his own while defending Towns for most of the second half, and senior guard Kyle Castlin and sophomore forward Patrick Tapé also added a combined 26 points.
“It’s great to get any Ivy win. With the home crowd, it helps,” said Adlesh. “We’d like to ride this wave. We’re trying to build consistency.”
The Lions did not have long to recover after the exciting win, and faced off against Dartmouth (4-15, 0-6 Ivy) at the same time on Saturday night. The Light Blue held on to win in the final seconds against Dartmouth on Saturday night 77-74. Castlin provided the Lions with a much-needed offensive spark off the bench, while also blocking a game-tying shot attempt in the final seconds.
The Light Blue jumped out to an early lead in the first half, as Adlesh continued to shoot well from behind the arc after his stellar performance against Harvard on Friday night. Adlesh drained four threes in the first half and finished the game shooting a whopping 60 percent from three point land.
The Light Blue offense performed well in the first half, as Smith and Meisner combined for 20 of the Lions 39 points. The pair went seven for eleven from the field in the first half, not to mention five of nine from behind the arc.
Much of the Light Blue’s electric offensive play was propelled by relentless full-court pressure employed early and often by Engles. The Lions scored 12 points off turnovers in the first half alone, and finished the period with a 39-27 lead.
The two teams traded baskets for most of the second half, but the Big Green was able to slowly cut into Columbia’s lead until finally taking a lead of its own, 67-66, with just 4:05 to play.
But Castlin was not ready to let winless Dartmouth steal a game on his home court. He accounted for 10 of the Lions’ final 13 points and finished with 16 on the game.
With five seconds to play and a three-point advantage, Columbia intentionally fouled to send Dartmouth first-year forward Adrease Jackson—who led his team in scoring with 24 points—to the free throw line in an attempt to prevent the Big Green from shooting a potentially game-tying three pointer. Jackson missed the first and was left with no option but to intentionally miss the second. He chucked the ball at the rim and almost impossibly it was deflected right out to sophomore guard Brendan Barry. For a second, it seemed like Barry had an open look, but right on cue, Castlin was prepared on defense to block the shot.
Columbia battled to hang on to the three-point win, completing the much-needed home series sweep. Men’s basketball will hit the road again next weekend to take on Yale and Brown, looking to sustain this momentum and find the consistency that Engles has been longing for all season.