Sports

Buzzer-beater topples Cornell after Columbia romps over men’s basketball

Bears stage comeback after trailing by 17 to earn victory over Big Red, come away with weekend split

By
Sports Staff Writer
Monday, February 23, 2015

Point guard Tavon Blackman ’17 led Bruno’s scoring efforts against Cornell with 17 points, knocking down all his shots from the free throw line.

The ball bounced around the rim and teetered on the edge for a chilling instant before falling through the net with 1.4 seconds remaining to lift the men’s basketball team to a dramatic 57-56 win over Cornell Saturday. The game-winning shot came courtesy of co-captain Cedric Kuakumensah ’16 and flushed away what had been, up to that point, a disappointing weekend at home for the Bears, who had been crushed by Columbia 76-59 the night before.

“That wasn’t exactly how we drew it up,” said Head Coach Mike Martin ’04 after his team spent most of the weekend trailing by double digits.

But the win capped a major comeback and salvaged a weekend split for the Bears (12-15. 3-7), who move into sixth place in the Ivy League.

Columbia 76, Brown 59

Friday night, the best player on the floor was wearing Columbia (13-11, 5-5) blue. Lions guard Maodo Lo, who led the Ivy League in scoring entering the weekend, was even better than usual against Bruno. Lo poured in 35 points — the most by any player in an Ivy game in four years — and between baskets, managed to rack up five assists, five rebounds and four steals. In the first half alone, Lo shot 10-of-11, and his 24 points nearly matched Bruno’s 28.

“He’s one of the most talented players in the league,” Martin said. “We allowed him to do everything he wanted … He was way too comfortable.”

With Lo at the helm, Columbia’s offense packed a punch from the opening tip, and the Bears were overwhelmed all night. A decisive 18-4 run — in which Lo dropped 13 — buried the home team late in the first half.

“At halftime, they had made 20 field goals, and we had only taken 20,” Martin said. “They were more ready to play than us.”

Bruno entered the game allowing the most points per game in the Ivy League, and the team’s defensive woes continued. The Bears received strong performances from captains Kuakumensah and Rafael Maia ’15, who combined for 34 points, but the defense could not provide the stops needed for a run.

Bruno’s 10 first-half turnovers contributed to a final 22-5 Columbia advantage in points off turnovers.

“Our turnovers led to a lot of easy baskets for them, especially in the run in the first half,” Martin said.

The Bears did outscore the Lions in the second half, but Columbia’s lead was never in jeopardy.

Brown 57, Cornell 56

For the first 23 minutes of play Saturday night, the Cornell (12-14, 4-6) game looked much like the Columbia game. The Big Red jumped to an early lead, the Bruno defense continued to struggle and the opponent’s best player — this time forward Shonn Miller — was lighting up the scoreboard. Miller had 16 points at the intermission, and his team led by 11.

Martin said they remained optimistic at half, but when play resumed, Cornell scored the first three baskets of the second half. Martin called another timeout; the nearly empty Pizzitola Center was silent. It was as close to rock bottom as the team had been all year. But the players believed they could overcome the deficit.

“When we were down 17, we came together after one of the timeouts and we were just like, ‘We’re fine. We’re going to win this game,’” said Tavon Blackmon ’17.

His words proved to be prophetic. With 16:44 remaining, Steven Spieth ’17 was fouled on a reverse layup for an and-one to spark the run. In the next four minutes, Blackmon and Spieth each had four, Maia hit a free throw and, suddenly, the down-and-out Bears were within five points.

While Spieth, Blackmon and Kuakumensah led an offensive surge, the comeback was really a product of defense. Thanks to Bruno’s increased ball pressure and energy, Cornell shot 5-of-21 in the game’s final 17 minutes.

“We were so good defensively,” Martin said. “We were focused on one stop at a time.”

But the game was not yet won, and Miller hit a long three with 3:46 to play that silenced the crowd and pushed the lead to six.

A minute later, Maia ran down a loose ball and flipped it to J.R. Hobbie ’17, who hit the second-biggest shot of the game: a trey from the corner to cut the lead to 56-55.

The score stood for two minutes when Cornell’s Darryl Smith grabbed a wide-open offensive rebound under the basket with 19 seconds remaining. He seemed destined either to extend the lead with a put-back or to try to run out the remaining seconds. He chose the former, but it backfired when Kuakumensah came flying across the lane to reject the attempt, pull down the rebound and set up the final play.

“He doesn’t usually block shots,” Martin joked after the game about Kuakumensah, who became the Ivy League’s second all-time leader in blocks with five against the Big Red, giving him 230 for his career. “It was a huge play.”

Martin called a timeout with nine seconds left to draw up a play. Two inbound options — Hobbie and Spieth — were both covered, so Blackmon entered the ball to Kuakumensah at the top of the key, who was supposed to get the ball back to Blackmon.

“We were trying to get Tavon the ball, but they denied him,” Kuakumensah said. “I just tried to get to the hoop, and luckily it fell.”

The broken play led to a tightly contested, off-balance floater from Kuakumensah. It was not the shot the Bears wanted, but it proved to be exactly what they needed.