By Kevin Sweeney
2 weeks ago today, Columbia had a 72.7% chance of reach the first-ever Ivy League Tournament, per Yale Sports Analytics on Twitter. According to those same metrics, Penn sat at just a 6.7% chance of qualifying.
However, a massive turnaround over these past 2 weekends left the Lions on the outside looking in, with just an 18.4% chance reaching the Palestra. That left Columbia facing a must-win game against the red-hot Quakers, who were in the driver’s seat for the fourth and final bid to the conference tournament.
But the Lions protected their home court and kept their conference tournament homes alive with a hard-fought 70-67 victory Saturday night. Freshman guard Mike Smith led all scorers with 20 points for Columbia.
With the stakes as high as they were, we expected a March-like atmosphere. We got just that from the outset, with the teams never separated by more than 8 points and were within one possession for most of the night.
Both teams came out of the gates firing, with the squads knotted at 13 after the first 5:05 of action. After that, the teams traded runs for the rest of the first half, with a 10-2 spurt by the Lions matched by a 12-1 half-closing run by the Quakers capped by a buzzer-beating 3 by freshman big man AJ Brodeur.
For 9 minutes and 20 seconds straight in the second half, Columbia and Penn remained within one possession of each other. It began to feel like whichever team made the next run would win the game, and that’s exactly what happened.
The Lions pulled ahead with a 10-3 run to take a 67-60 lead with 5:30 to go. It was the play of Smith and junior Nate Hickman that keyed the run, with each scoring 5 points and setting up the other two buckets with assists. The Levien Gymnasium crowd was going crazy, and the Quakers were on the ropes.
But Penn responded with the game’s next 5 points to get right back into it with just under 3 minutes to play in the game. From there, neither team could get much going offensively, but Columbia made enough plays to come away with the win.
With the shot clock running down, Smith drained a triple with just over a minute to play to extend the Lions’ lead back to 5. Penn responded with a pair of free throws and a stop to get the ball back with a chance to tie. However, Jackson Donahue couldn’t get his 3 to fall, and a heave at the buzzer by Donahue was blocked to seal the Columbia victory.
Beyond Smith’s 20 points, Columbia got 17 points from senior big man Lukas Petrasek and
13 from Hickman.
Penn was led by Brodeur’s 16 points and 8 rebounds, as well as Donahue’s 16 points.
The two squads are now tied for the 4th seed with 2 games to play. The pressure seems to be more on Penn, who likely need to beat Harvard next weekend to earn the 4th seed.