When the head coaches of the Cornell and Columbia men’s basketball teams spoke at halftime in Newman Arena Saturday afternoon, the Lions’ Joe Jones remarked to Steve Donahue that the game was shaping up like a heavyweight title fight.
“I told him it was like an Ali-Frazier fight at halftime of this game,” Jones said. “We’re neck-and-neck, going toe-to-toe. [But] they were able to withstand our punches, and we didn’t get it done.”
The Red rallied from a seven-point deficit with 4:36 remaining in the game to secure a 56-51 win over the Lions, earning a season sweep of their intrastate conference rival and improving to 3-1 in the Ivy League and 10-8 overall on the season. Columbia slipped to 1-3 in conference play and 10-8 overall.
“I think we realized how much of a mental game the second [game in the series] is,” said senior tri-captain Andrew Naeve. “This year I just saw a huge difference in our team from what we’ve been through losing games at the end when we should have been winning them.”
[img_assist|nid=20960|title=men’s backetball|desc=The air up there. Freshman Ryan Wittman (20) tries to finish a drive in Cornell’s 56-51 win over Columbia on Saturday.|link=popup|align=right|width=69|height=100]
A trio of players hit double digits for Cornell, led by freshman Ryan Wittman with 15 points, including a 3-for-3 performance from beyond the arc in the second half. Classmate Louis Dale added 13 tallies, while Naeve recorded a double-double with 11 points and 11 boards. Senior tri-captain Graham Dow dished out a game-high five assists to help the Red get the win.
Columbia junior John Baumann went up against Naeve in a battle for dominance down low, notching a double-double of his own with 12 points and 12 rebounds to help the Lions to a 34-33 edge on the glass. Sophomore Joe Bova also contributed 10 points for the visitors.
Bauman opened the scoring with a layup at the 18:37 mark, which was quickly answered by a layup from Wittman for the first of seven tie scores on the afternoon. A trey from Dale put the Red ahead, a lead it guarded for most of the first half until a pair of free throws from Columbia junior Justin Armstrong gave the visitors a one-point lead with 1:26 remaining in the opening frame.
As was the case throughout the game, however, the leading team did not have a chance to relax as freshman Alex Tyler hit a jumper from the elbow to put Cornell ahead once more. The Lions quickly hit back when junior Mack Montgomery connected on a 3-pointer with three seconds left on the clock to send Columbia into the break with a 27-25 lead.
The two sides continued to slug it out after the break, with Cornell landing the first blows to take back the lead. Dale laid in an inbounds pass from Dow in the lane, then Dow stole Columbia’s inbounds pass and made a layup to put the Red up, 31-28, with 17:29 left to play.
“You’re just looking for any kind of angle,” Donahue said. “You keep telling your guys, somebody’s got to dive, somebody’s got to deflect because we know each other so well.”
Columbia was far from down for the count however, and tied it up once more before Wittman drilled a long 3-pointer give Cornell the edge once again. The Lions then unleashed an 8-0 run — including an undefended 3-pointer from freshman Patrick Foley — to take a 40-35 lead with eight minutes left in the game. Columbia continued to penetrate Cornell’s zone defense and pushed the lead to seven.
“Nothing went right for long stretches,” Donahue said. “Columbia was beating us to the punch consistently, whether it was a long rebound, a putback … All those situations we look at to win basketball games, they did a terrific job for 37 minutes.”
It looked as though the Columbia lead might last when Naeve went 0-for-4 on two successive trips to the charity stripe, but a 3-pointer from Dale and a return to man-to-man defense kept the Red within reach.
“We just got tight on our defense, got active and deflected balls,” Naeve said. “And then we started playing a lot more active on the offensive end too, getting looks, which made a difference.”
In a fitting end to a game in which 46 total fouls were called, Cornell made 9-of-12 free throws as a team over the final minutes to hold on for a win. Columbia delivered one last blow with a lay up from Baumann with 11 ticks left, but Dale and Naeve held the Lions off by making a free throw apiece. Wittman delivered the knockout punch with one last trey to make the final score 56-51.