By Kevin Sweeney
One of the greatest senior classes in Columbia basketball history ended their careers with a bang, earning the Ivy League’s first postseason tournament championship since 1975 by winning the CIT Championship over UC Irvine on Tuesday. Senior guard Grant Mullins led the way for the Lions with 20 points.
Despite having to face a raucous Columbia home crowd, UC Irvine had control early. Junior guard Luke Nelson was especially hot in the earlygoing, scoring 11 of the Anteaters’s first 14 points. However, the Lions used a 15-2 run capped by a 3 by Luke Petrasek to take a 29-22 lead as the first half wound down. The run helped Columbia take a 31-26 lead into halftime. UC Irvine scored just 4 points in the final 7:40 of the first half, with their only 2 scores coming on dunks by 7’6″ Mamadou Ndiaye.
The Anteaters quickly cut into the halftime deficit in the second half, evening the score at 37 less than 4 minutes into the half. UC Irvine provided a unique challenge for the Lions, as the Anteaters’s have as much size as any team in the country. Yet Columbia hung in tough, with backup forward Jeff Coby coming up big with 14 points and 10 rebounds. As a result, the Lions actually outrebounded UC Irvine 38-34 on the game. As the game wound down, Columbia took control. Maodo Lo, despite struggling with his shot all night, hit a huge 3 with under 2 minutes to play to give the Lions a 6 point lead. Down the stretch, Columbia made enough foul shots to hold on, and the Lions were CIT Champions!
It will be interesting to see the future of both programs. For UC Irvine, its top 2 scorers have eligibility remaining, but Mamadou Ndiaye could leave for the NBA. Columbia loses its top 3 scorers, including Lo, one of the best players in school history. Columbia could also lose coach Kyle Smith, who has been heavily connected to the San Fransisco vacancy.