Unlucky And Winless, Columbia Stumbles In Big Spot At Dartmouth

They were traveling uphill all night, but there was a sense of hope for Columbia midway through the second half Friday as they were able to almost get their deficit to host Dartmouth to single digits. Miles Wright rose and his three-pointer was well long, only it took a strange carom, floating straight up toward the ceiling, and somehow fell straight through the hoop.

Of course, Columbia fans thought.

The Lions made a somewhat improbable comeback at the end, cutting a 19-point deficit with eight minutes left to two, but Dartmouth held on for an 80-78 win at Leede Arena.

“They made a ton of shots. We didn’t have much of a defensive presence in the first half, unfortunately,” Columbia coach Jim Engles said. “And we were fighting uphill after that.”

There was good news elsewhere for Columbia (8-18, 5-8). With Cornell losing at Harvard, a win Saturday night over the Crimson in Boston would still see it qualify for the Ivy League Tournament (thanks to sweeping Harvard) no matter what happens elsewhere. However, Columbia has now lost 12 straight away from home, its only victory coming in November at Longwood, currently No. 340 (of 351) in those KenPom ratings.

The Lions haven’t won an Ivy road game since Jan. 14, 2017 over Cornell, another streak of 12 in a row. Oh and the Crimson – which will be playing to wrap up a regular season Ivy title – hasn’t lost a conference home game since Feb. 4, 2017, a heartbreaking 59-58 defeat to Princeton, who proceeded to go undefeated in conference play.

How much of Columbia’s road struggles are just being unlucky? The Lions are No. 351 and dead last in KenPom’s luck numbers, and by a decent margin, at -.157, they are are a whopping .45 behind the closest team (Monmouth). Columbia’s consistency at the bottom of the luck standings is fascinating, and it predates Jim Engles’ arrival on the Upper West Side.

Surely, Wright’s shot and Lukas Meisner being unavailable due to illness (he will likely be a gametime decision on Saturday) in the season’s biggest game have to fall into the poor luck category, as did Dartmouth (280th in luck) shooting 12-24 from three, many of them contested.

But it’s not everything. Columbia still stands 310th in defensive efficiency and had trouble stopping Dartmouth (7-19, 3-10) – the worst offensive team in the Ivy – anywhere, conceding 1.16 points per possession and 18-29 from two-point range as well. The Big Green had 20 assists on 30 field goals. After holding two of its first three Ivy opponents under 1.00 ppp, the Lions have done so just once since, in a blowout win over Princeton. At home, of course.

“Honestly, we’re just trying to remain consistent with everything we do, but obviously it’s a struggle right now,” Engles said. “We just have to regroup and get ready for another big game tomorrow night.”

Columbia could make all this moot with an unlikely win at Harvard (and there are still scenarios that could amazingly see them advance to The Palestra at 5-9), but it might be back to the drawing board to get ready for 2018-19.

And in search of something to carry for good luck outside of Manhattan.

What else did we learn Friday in Hanover?:

  1. Dartmouth could have used some luck as well

I already pointed out Dartmouth’s poor luck rating, and with the way things have played out in the conference, the Big Green could have easily been headed to Philadelphia next week with a couple of breaks. Also as I’ve pointed out before, Dartmouth has been solid in conference play, particularly at home. But they barely lost at Columbia and could have won at Harvard as well.

They succeeded Friday without Will Emery, who had been one of their best players in the last few weeks, as a wrist injury prematurely ended his campaign. Dartmouth will have to regroup a little without Miles Wright and Taylor Johnson, but its not unreasonable to think they will be in the hunt for an Ivy Tournament berth next season (although there are very few seniors in the conference).

“It’s always a difficult thing when it’s your last week of practice,” Dartmouth coach David McLaughlin said. “What exactly are you playing for? We said we’re playing for the future of this program. And we’re playing for the seniors. We talked about how important these games are for the seniors and we responded. We made some mistakes at the end and made some poor decisions, but we also had some open looks that we just missed. But we did enough.”

2) Learning to be a leader

With his team struggling and Meisner out, all eyes went to sophomore point guard Mike Smith, whose stats indicate that he might be worthy of an all-Ivy League selection this season. And his numbers Friday were very good as well: 20 points, six assists against just one turnover. But a lot of those came as Columbia mounted its comeback in the second half. Earlier, Smith was somewhat reluctant to look for his own shot. It’s a tough spot to be in, in a perfect world, Smith (only a 28.1% three-point shooter in conference play) would be able to be mostly a distributor.

And, as pointed out earlier, most of Columbia’s problems were on defense anyway. The Lions finished with 1.13 ppp Friday after all.

3) Honoring a Dartmouth legend

A moment of silence was held prior to Friday’s game to remember Ed Leede, who died earlier this week at the age of 90. Leede Arena is, of course, named after Ed, who came from Queens to play for Dartmouth in 1944, then returning after a stint in The Marines to lead the Big Green. He went on to play for the Boston Celtics soon after they were formed in the late 1940s.

Leede entered Harvard Business School after his playing career and eventually became a benefactor to his alma mater. Leede Arena opened in 1987.

Columbia at Dartmouth – Game on from Hanover! #TMMLegacy

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