Rolling around the rim twice before ultimately bouncing off, sophomore forward Riley Voss’s last-second three-point heave came about as close as possible to forcing overtime, ending Cornell’s comeback hopes as the Red fell to Columbia, 73-70, Saturday night.
The series between the Empire State rivals is now split 1-1 with both games coming down to last-second shots. Cornell beat the Lions, 60-59, in Ithaca last weekend, nearly squandering a double-digit lead. Both teams’ Ivy League records now sit at 1-1.
Columbia led for the majority of the contest, coming out strong and building an 11-point cushion in the second half. Strong defense by Columbia senior Quinton Adlesh kept star Cornell senior guard Matt Morgan, averaging 23.3 points per game, at bay for most of the first half. Columbia also consistently controlled the boards, getting key offensive rebounds to stifle any chance at a momentum change for the visitors.
But a 22-point performance from sophomore forward Jimmy Boeheim kept the Red within striking distance throughout, as he was able to get to the rim and draw fouls.
“I was just trying to be very aggressive,” Boeheim said. “I felt confident and wanted to do whatever I could to help my team.”
Unfortunately, Cornell had no answer for Columbia guard Gabe Stefanini, who scored 24 points. The Lions’ standout sophomore was consistently able to get in the paint and pull up for midrange jumpers. With Cornell having the best three-point defense in the Ivy league, Stefanini and the Lions adapted and attacked the paint, controlling the interior game from the opening tip.
“Credit to Columbia,” Boeheim said. “They made some big shots down the stretch. We also had a couple communication errors down the stretch that we just can’t have moving forward.”
Despite its sloppy play at times, Cornell stayed aggressive and had a chance to pull out a victory at the end — Saturday’s contest was a near carbon-copy of last weekend’s, but with the roles reversed. Last weekend, Cornell led 14-0 and a Columbia shot at the buzzer missed, securing a win for the hosts. In New York, Cornell came from behind and had a final chance to tie.
Thanks to back-to-back, pick-and-pop plays featuring Morgan and Boeheim leading to consecutive three-pointers, the Red pulled within one with just under a minute left, looking poised to steal the game.
But Adlesh, who had 21 points in Columbia’s win, had other ideas. The senior hit a silky jumper over the contested arms of six-foot-six senior forward Steven Julian, one of the Ivy League’s best defenders — Julian ranks third in the conference with 1.56 blocks per game.
Morgan then delivered a quick basket for Cornell, which was then forced to foul Stefanini. Stefanini missed the game tying free throw in last Saturday’s contest at Newman Arena, but came up clutch this game, hitting both and forcing Voss’s last-second heave.
Bench points continue to be an issue for Cornell as the Red’s non-starters went for eight points, compared to Columbia’s 29 points off the bench.
In good news for Cornell, Morgan — who last weekend set the Cornell men’s basketball program record for career scoring — scored 21 points, tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s streak of 69 consecutive games in double figures. This mark ranks 22nd all-time in NCAA history. Additionally, Boeheim finished the night just one point shy of his own career high in points.
In its third Ivy league game, Cornell will face off against Penn on February 1 at Newman Arena. The game between the Red and reigning Ivy champ Quakers is set to be televised nationally on ESPNU.