The men’s basketball team (7-8, 2-0 Ivy) escaped Levien Gymnasium Saturday night with a hard fought 55-53 victory over Columbia (2-13, 0-2 Ivy) after squandering a 14-point halftime lead to improve to 2-0 in the Ivy League for the first time since the 1994-95 season.
After taking a 37-23 lead into the break, Cornell allowed the Lions to tie the game at 50 with under two minutes to play, but late free throws by sophomore guards A.J. Castro and Cody Toppert helped the Red avoid an embarrassing defeat.
“Their game plan was to sag down and make you shoot from the perimeter. Basically, they just try to make it such an ugly game. Fortunately, we were able to hit some shots and come out with a win,” said a relieved Eric Taylor, who finished with six points and a game-high nine rebounds.
While Taylor struggled offensively, the Red’s attack was led by junior point guard Ka’Ron Barnes’ game-high 17 points and 14 points from freshman forward Lenny Collins. Columbia was led by Allan MacQuarrie’s career-high 13 points, while Tito Hill contributed nine off the bench. Center Chris Wiedeman added four points and eight rebounds.
Cornell dominated the game from the outset, jumping out to an 8-0 lead. Dragutin Kravich scored the Lions’ first points to make it 8-2 with just over twelve minutes to play in the half, capitalizing on a loose ball that translated into an easy layup. However, the Light Blue continued to struggle offensively throughout most of the first half, turning the ball over 15 times and shooting just 34.8 percent from the floor. Forward Marco McCottry’s 3-pointer with 4:39 left put Columbia in double-figures, closing the Red’s lead to 22-11. A flurry of 3-point activity from both teams in the final five minutes brought the score to 37-23, capped by Toppert’s trifecta to end the half.
Toppert scored seven of his eight points by halftime, with Barnes adding 11 by the break. Collins, a three-time Ivy Rookie of the Week, led all scorers with 12 at the break.
“I was able to get to the free throw line early and it really got me going. Hitting the free throws got me warmed up and into the game from the start. Plus, a lot of guys were just able to find me down on the wings for open shots, and I was able to hit them. I didn’t want to force anything, so I just let the opportunities come,” Collins said of his breakout performance in the first half.
For the game, Collins was 3-5 from the floor, including 2-3 from beyond the arc. At the line, he was a perfect six of six. On defense, the freshman had four steals.
As a team, the Red shot 54.5 percent from the floor in the half, and also outrebounded the Lions 15-12.
The second half began with a beautiful wraparound pass from Barnes that found Taylor in the paint for an easy lay-up to extend the Red’s lead to 39-23, but the Lions quickly countered. Columbia guard Jeremiah Boswell connected on two of three free throws after being fouled beyond the arc by Barnes, and a three-pointer by Dalen Cuff cut the lead to 39-28 with 15:28 to go in the game.
After a media timeout, Wiedeman scored, cutting the lead to single digits for the first time since an early 10-2 lead by Cornell. After a Castro free throw extended the lead to 40-30, Hill connected on two field goals to reduce the deficit to 40-35 with ten minutes to play.
The Red seemed to reassert control, scoring four consecutive points to extend the lead to nine, but Columbia refused to fade. Energized by the play of the seldom-used MacQuarrie, Columbia methodically cut the lead to one at 46-45 after Taylor goaltended a MacQuarrie drive down the lane.
Collins converted on his only field goal of the second half to make it 48-45, but was countered by two MacQuarrie free throws to cut the Cornell lead back to one.
The teams traded baskets to bring the score to 50-49, but Wiedeman stepped to the foul line with a minute and a half left with a chance to take the lead. He connected on the first to knot the game at 50, but missed the second.
“I thought we got a little rattled with the crowd atmosphere and defensive pressure, but Ka’Ron was able to step up and hit shots down the stretch for us. Once he did that, that really got the ball rolling for us