Columbia has a new lease on life. A five-game losing streak put the Lions in a must-win situation on Saturday night against Penn if they wanted to have any chance of reaching the inaugural Ivy League tournament, but they did win and they do have hope.
The Lions pulled out the 70-67 victory, surviving two Jackson Donahue three-point attempts on Penn’s final possession. Donahue’s first shot, from beyond the top of the key, looked like it might send the game to overtime, but it bounced out and towards the corner and his follow up was rejected by Luke Petrasek.
Petrasek, who scored his 1,000th career point on Senior Night at Levien Gymnasium, scored 17 points for Columbia.
“It’s great because they beat us in a crucial point in the season, earlier,” Petrasek said. “And getting this win back keeps us alive. So we knew our season was really riding on this.”
Penn could have clinched fourth place in the Ivy League tournament with a victory on Saturday night, but now things get quite complicated. Both teams are tied at 5-7 in the Ivy League. Since they split the head-to-head, Columbia currently holds the tie-breaker due to its home victory over Harvard earlier this season. But if Penn were to beat Harvard on the final night of the Ivy League season, then that tie-breaker would disappear and actually go to Penn due to their victory over Yale. And if Columbia managed to beat Yale in New Haven, certainly a tall task, then the tie-breaker would still most likely go to Penn because the Quakers are higher in ratings systems (for instance Penn is 148th in KenPom and Columbia is 226th).
Got all that?
What it does mean though is that, while Jim Engles isn’t concentrating on the Ivy League tournament, his team still has a chance to make it there. They’ll just need some proper confluence of events.
“Our season’s not over,” Petrasek said. “We’re still hoping to make this [season] the most memorable.”
And that hope is better than no hope at all.
Here are three other thoughts from Columbia’s victory.
1. A surprise senior shone brightly in his final home game. Engles gave Kendall Jackson the start on Senior Night and the 5-foot-8 point guard responded in a big way. He knocked down a three-pointer to start the game and his energy in the man-to-man defense was excellent.
“Kenny was the only [senior] who had not really been able to get on the court for us this year and when I gave him the starting nod I really wanted to do out of respect for him and for all the things he’s done for the program,” Engles said. “And then to see him respond like that. That’s what this is all about.”
Jackson played 14 minutes in the first half, which would’ve been a season-high. He added nine more minutes in the second, providing a strong defensive effort against Penn’s dangerous perimeter players. Jackson finished with two assists, two turnovers and two steals in 23 minutes, which is incredible considering he had played 39 minutes all season beforehand.
“We needed that injection of energy, passion and enthusiasm that he brought for us tonight and he really helped us alot with that,” Engles said.
2. The defense didn’t start pretty, but it worked itself out. Jackson Donahue was “out of his mind,” early according to Engles. Donahue torched the Lions, knocking down his first four three-point attempts, but things balanced out as the game went on. Columbia focused more on getting into Donahue’s body and he missed his last four attempts, though he was able to get to the rim a few times.
“The coaches screamed at me to stay on his body and that changed throughout the game, because staying on his body made him put the ball down and he’s really not known for putting the ball down,” Mike Smith said.
Columbia also had a difficult time stopping AJ Brodeur. (Not an uncommon challenge for Ivy League teams.) Engles leaned heavily on Patrick Tape (12 minutes), Conor Voss (11 minutes) and Chris McComber (10 minutes) after Jeff Coby had trouble containing the 6-foot-8 freshman. Brodeur still finished with 16 points on 6-8 shooting.
Overall Penn scored just over a point per possession (67 points in 66 possessions), in what Engles called Columbia’s best defensive effort of the season.
“We played hard on defense for the first time all year and I was proud to see that,” Engles said.
3. On Senior Night it was a freshman’s big shot that sealed the game. Mike Smith scored 20 points on lead the Lions. His step-back three-pointer gave Columbia a five-point lead late.
“I work on this move a lot, but I just never really use it, which is bad,” Smith said about the step-back. “I was going to step back and I felt really confident in myself.”
Due to his 5-foot-11 stature, Smith will need to find countermoves like the step-back to use against opponents as he develops his offensive game. Smith also needs to get stronger this offseason in hopes of finishing better in traffic. He’s converted just 33% of his two-point attempts in Ivy League play. Part of that is off-balanced jumpers and part of it is that when he beats opponents off the dribble they’re just hoping that he gets tangled up with the tree near the rim.
Smith has shown a strong three-point shot (38% on 47 attempts), and he’s obviously a dynamic offensive threat, but he’ll need to improve all facets of his offensive game to be one of Columbia’s key weapons on next season. Also good to see on Saturday night was Smith’s 4-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio. That playmaking ability is key when opponents are sagging into the paint to contain his drives.