A Crisis of Confidence at Columbia

Once thought to be an Ivy League dark horse, Columbia dropped to 1-4 in league play with a 60-57 loss to Dartmouth at Levien Gymnasium on a snowy Friday in New York City.

The Lions have talent, as they showed in a win over Villanova earlier this season, but right now they appear to be struggling mentally in Ivy League play.

“Honestly I think it’s more between the ears for us as a team,” said head coach Kyle Smith. “We’ve got to get out of this and feel good about ourselves.”

Columbia had two final shots to tie the game in the final 19 seconds of regulation, but both of Steve Frankoski’s attempts from the left wing bounced off the rim. It was part of a 3-20 shooting night from distance for the Lions.

All three of those threes came during an 1:24 stretch in the second half after starting 0-13. The Lions then missed their final four.

“It’s just the mentality you have to have,” said Maodo Lo, who scored nine points in 31 minutes. “If you miss coaches tell us to keep on shooting because you’re not going to help out the team if you don’t take open shots, so you just have to stay aggressive and shoot threes when you’re open.”

For most of the game though it was Dartmouth that was more aggressive. Thanks to big games from Connor Boehm (20 points) and Alex Mitola (17 points, 4-5 from three), the Big Green pulled out their first Ivy road win in 24 tries.

While Dartmouth had come close earlier in the season, blowing a big lead at Harvard before succumbing in overtime, they’re almost too young to get down on themselves right now. Tyler Melville is the only rotation player for Paul Cormier that isn’t a freshman or sophomore.

The Lions on the other hand have veterans who know this is the end. Guys like Mark Cisco and Brian Barbour don’t have another shot. Barbour is struggling right now. While he had seven assists in 31 minutes, he also took only two shots in the first half and six for the game.

In the past few games, Columbia has made big runs to get close with Barbour on the bench. Friday night the Lions took Dartmouth’s second half lead down from 11 to one as Barbour sat on the bench.

And now there’s hesitancy to Barbour’s game. Late against Dartmouth he passed up the opportunity to go to the rim, a classic late-game Barbour move, instead kicking it out.

“I think maybe he’s a little worn down,” Smith said about his 1,000-point scorer. “We made a run without him… No one will ever try harder. When we went back to him he made a nice drop off to [John Daniels], hit the and-one, made a couple pair of free throws. Right now he’s a shadow of himself and we need him to be an all-league player to be good.”

Another player that has been struggling lately is Grant Mullins. He was 2-9 from the field, including 0-5 from the three-point line, before suffering an ankle injury with 18:04 remaining in the game. He didn’t return.

Mullins scored 10 points at Cornell to open Ivy play, but he’s struggled shooting the ball in each of the past four games.

“I think it’s normal,” Smith said. “I think he’s just getting scouted and he’s in a little bit of a hurry. He’s probably never gone through one of these stretches. Up in Canada he had quite a bit of success… He’s probably battling a little bit of self-doubt. He knows he’s good. He’s fighting. He’ll keep persisting.”

The unique set-up of the Ivy League’s automatic berth probably isn’t helping the Lions’ confidence. After another daring escape last night at Cornell, Harvard and Princeton have built three-game leads in the loss column over the other six Ivy teams. With no conference tournament it’s going to be difficult for anyone else to win the league.

In fact, Pomeroy currently predicts that no other team will finish above .500 in league play. Making it a two-horse race until March.

What has to be especially frustrating to Columbia is how this season, even with all the new talent, feels eerily similar to the last, when seven of the Lions’ 10 Ivy losses were by five points or fewer or in overtime. This season three of the Blue and White’s four losses have been by fewer than five points. The other? A six-point loss at Princeton where the Lions had chances down the stretch.

Due to winter storm Nemo the Lions get an extra day to prepare for Harvard, which has had the exact opposite results in the Ivies. The Crimson have already won four close games during league play.

“I’m glad that we have a little more time,” Smith said. “Those back-to-backs are a little crazy. Even though people would say we’re losing our advantage, especially after our result tonight we need to refresh mentally, emotionally.”

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