With half of Ivy League play in the books, the men’s basketball team has set itself up for one of its most successful seasons in a long time.
Making the trip through the Empire State on the weekend, the Tigers (16-5 overall, 6-1 Ivy League) pulled off their second straight weekend sweep of league play and pushed their winning streak out to 4. They dominated the Cornell Big Red (9-13, 2-6) to the tune of 85-56 and earned a nail-biter of a win against the Columbia Lions (17-8, 6-2) with 88-83 in overtime.
While the Big Red scored the opening bucket of its Friday night match against Princeton, they didn’t hold the lead at any point after that. The Tigers came in hungry for a victory, and they rolled over their Ithaca opponents from the very beginning. A 17-6 run, sparked by some hot shooting from downtown by junior guard Spencer Weisz and sophomore guard Amir Bell, immediately turned this game into an uphill battle for the Big Red. The Tigers as a whole shot a scorching nine of 11 from downtown to open up and saw their lead balloon to as large as 25 in the first half before eventually heading into the locker room up by 23.
The onslaught would not stop there. The Tigers opened up the second with a 13-5 run to push the lead up to 31 points and ultimately ended this battle with an 85-56 victory. Indeed, one of the most impressive parts of their victory was the balance in scoring. Four Tiger players — Bell, junior forward Henry Caruso, freshman guard Myles Stephens and freshman forward Devin Cannady — finished in double digits to end the game. The Tigers as a whole were lights out, shooting 50 percent from the field and 44 percent from downtown.
With an impressive victory in the books, the Tigers knew they faced a daunting challenge afterwards: taking on the Lions, second in the league so far, in New York City. These two teams have a history of dramatic clashes — last March, Princeton and Columbia fought tooth and nail, as Columbia’s star forward Maodo Lo put in 37 points in what would be a one-point Tiger victory.
This game proved to be equally thrilling. Unlike in the Cornell game, the Tigers found themselves on the wrong side of an opening run, falling behind 15-6 in the first 10 minutes and faced deficits as large as 12 in the first half. They kept in this thanks to the impressive performance of forward Pete Miller, who burned Columbia as he scored from down low and the free throw line. Miller finished the first half as the Tigers’ leading scorer with 12 points through the first 20 minutes. Despite a rough shooting performance in the first half (33 percent from the field), the Tigers found themselves down only four.
In the start of the second, Columbia was once again the initial aggressor. After a back-and-forth exchange of baskets early on, the Lions pushed their lead to 11, with just over eight minutes to go. Seven straight points from the Tigers (coming from Caruso, Cannady and Stephens) brought that lead down to four. However, Lions came close once again to sealing this one up, taking a nine point lead with just under four minutes to go.
The Tigers, however, had other plans. Attacking the post again and again led to layups and free throws for Bell, Caruso and junior guard Stephen Cook, bringing this contest to within three points. For the rest of regulation, Cannady would play the hero. With less than 30 seconds to go, the Tigers were down three and needed to foul. As Columbia’s Grant Mullins went 2-2 from the stripe, Cannady hit a mid-range jumper to bring it back to three. Then, taking advantage of a 1-2 performance at the line by Columbia’s Alex Rosenberg, Cannady rose up and hit another one from downtown to bring the deficit down to one.
Princeton did make an error on the next play — Maodo Lo, who had nowhere near the outburst he had in these teams’ previous meeting, got behind the defense to sink a layup with eight seconds to go. Cannady, however, responded once more, sinking another three with five seconds to go to tie this game up. Columbia, unable to score on the last play, saw their once-commanding lead turn into a battle in overtime.
Even still, despite the setback, Columbia still came out firing. A 7-0 run to begin extra time placed a daunting task in front of the Tigers. Cannady, however, was there once again, hitting the and-one jumper to bring the Tigers to within four. Cook came through with an and-one of his own, from driving into the post and drawing the contact. Thus, getting hit in the face with that opening run, the Tigers were within one point of the lead.
Now, with 49 seconds to go, Cannady sank the go-ahead jumper that would leave the Tigers up for good. The Lions wouldn’t score again — with an inability to score and with Caruso sinking all four of his free throws after being intentionally fouled, the Tigers escaped New York with their most exciting victory to date.
While the entire team stepped up in this performance, much credit has to go to Cannady and Miller for keeping their team alive in this one. Cannady finished with a career-high 23 points and with some of the most clutch buckets of his nascent collegiate career. Miller, the hero of the first half, finished with a monster double-double, 20 points and 13 rebounds.
With this thriller in the books, the Tigers have set themselves up for the most important showdown of the season. This Friday, they host the Yale Bulldogs (17-5, 8-0), who currently stand No. 1 in the league at 8-0. The Tigers’ only loss in league play has come at the hands of the Bulldogs — a victory on Friday means that Yale no longer holds the tie-break over them and gives the Tigers their best chance of heading to the big dance.