Columbia men’s basketball came into this evening’s game against Cornell with high hopes—after all, some sports prognosticators and portents had picked the Lions in the preseason as league champions, and opening league play with a hard-fought six-point loss at Ithaca against Cornell, there seemed to be no reason that the senior-studded lineup couldn’t better their performance at home in the veritable high-school gym that is Levien.
A win would mean a respectable 1-1 record with twelve ostensibly easier league games to go; a loss would consign Columbia to the cellar of the Ivy League, with a pitiful record of 0-2 and prospects for a league championship dim for not just one but probably several years. So how did the Lions respond to what may have been the biggest basketball game in years? In a word, poorly. Cornell came out of the gate strong by scoring ten unanswered; Columbia’s clunky offense failed to score until more than six minutes had elapsed.
Given the Lions’ slow, methodical, halfcourt-oriented mode of scoring points, an early-game deficit is always bad, and an early-game deficit against a superior team even worse. Easy interior points were impossible against Cornell’s corn-fed frontcourt, and on the rare occasions when the drives drew fouls, horrible free-throw shooting ensured that the deficit remained as huge as ever. Meanwhile, the defense, which forced a number of turnovers, would play solidly and smotheringly for the first fifteen or so second of every possession before breaking down at the most inopportune of times and surrendering an unfortunate trifecta or layup off the glass.
Impassioned cheers from the student section were squelched whenever Cornell scored a basket, which was frequent: every exchange seemed to result in either a preservation or a widening of the deficit, and by halftime, the score was Cornell 40, Columbia 22. Like in the non-conference home opener against Fordham, the Lions were able to recover their poise during the second half, but it was already too late: Cornell simply answered every Columbia basket with a basket of their own—Columbia never came within less than a dozen points—and in doing so cruised to an easy victory, far easier than their effort at home a week earlier.
The referees, at times complacent and at others fickle, failed to help either side, the accurate three-point shooting of the Lions capitulated to the relentless interior attack of the Bears, and the game grew ever more out of reach as time elapsed and expired. In the end, Columbia succumbed to what Camus might have called “the indifference of the universe,” lost the game by a score of 72-54, and forfeited the better part of their chances for a share of the league title and an NCAA tournament berth. The general agreement was that it’s not fair to have a state school in the Ivy League, which is, after all, no more than an athletic conference. But with twelve games left against mostly inferior opposition in a league with a lot of parity, we can still hope, right?
– Christopher Morris-Lent
The grisly details can be viewed here