While the highlight from this weekend’s men’s basketball games may have been the renaming of the Levien Gymnasium’s basketball court in honor of Jonathan Schiller, CC ’69, Law ’73, it is becoming readily apparent that the Lions may be the ones in need of a makeover, as the team dropped both its games for the fourth week in a row.
The Lions (6-20, 1-9 Ivy) kept it close on Friday, falling 72-66 to Brown (13-10, 6-4 Ivy) for the second time this season. The same cannot be said about Saturday’s contest against Yale (20-6, 8-2 Ivy), as Columbia found itself down by more than 10 points less than 13 minutes into the game. The Bulldogs did not look back from there, ultimately dominating the Light Blue with a final score of 83-65.
These losses marked the eighth and ninth consecutive defeats for the Light Blue, a streak that head coach Jim Engles understands the team needs to break soon.
“It was obviously a tough weekend for us,” Engles said. “We need to do something to get ourselves out of this rut that we are in.”
On Friday night, the Lions tried and failed to crawl out of their rut against Brown, a team it found success against last season.
The Light Blue went into this weekend at somewhat of a disadvantage, as sophomore forward Ike Nweke was unavailable during both contests due to injury. His absence meant that the Lions were without one of their two most important interior players, an area they have struggled in all season long. With Nweke out, Columbia was unable to find its footing on the boards all weekend, getting outrebounded by 12 against Brown and 19 against Yale. After the contest against Yale, Engles acknowledged many of the problems that came with Nweke’s injury.
“We weren’t really able to rebound, and Ike, Ike allows us to match up a little bit better at times, so, you know, he’s a big piece for us, and we need to get him back,” Engles said.
Engles turned to junior center Joseph Smoyer in Nweke’s stead, a move that seemed to serve the Lions well through most of the game against Brown. The Lions led by as much as 11 points in the second half and held that lead as late as 16 minutes into that half. However, the Bears were able to change the tide with their starting guards’ clutch shots.
Senior point guard Mike Smith, who led the Lions in scoring that night with 22 points, had a chance late in the game to cut the deficit to a single point. However, the country’s ninth-leading scorer could not get the three-point shot to fall, and the Bears pulled away. Smith, who will play his final four games in a Columbia uniform over the next few weeks, won’t allow the losing to get to him.
“It’s frustrating, but at the same time, I am just playing the game. If we win, we win. If we lose, we lose,” Smith said. “But … you can’t win them all. We are trying to get a win but, you know what I mean, things are not going our way.”
Even though the game went very differently against Yale, the end result was the same. After a competitive first five and a half minutes, at the end of which the Lions were actually up 17-16, Columbia did not score another field goal for the next six and a half minutes. Junior forward Randy Brumant temporarily relieved the field goal drought, only for another worse one to ensue, as the Light Blue did not score a field goal for almost the remaining eight minutes of the half, going into the break down 44-28.
After a halftime that featured a ceremony celebrating the renaming of the basketball court in honor of Schiller, the two teams came out for a much more evenly-matched second half. Smith accounted for 25 of the team’s 37 total points, finishing just 1 point shy of his career-high on a night during which the Lions would ultimately fall 83-65.
Although the Lions hoped to honor the man and a team who led the Lions to an Ivy League title 52 years ago, it was not surprising to see the worst-ranked Lions lose to the top-ranked Bulldogs. With two weeks left in the season, Engles says the Lions will continue to improve and to be competitive in games like they have been during most of the season—“with the exception of Yale. … We really struggle with their match up.”
The Lions will try to snap their nine-game losing streak next weekend at Levien Gymnasium when they take on Harvard on Friday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. and Dartmouth on Leap Day at the same time. Both games will be aired on ESPN Plus.
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