I debated just going back to Grand Central Station and home after the conclusion of the St. Francis game. It was just about 7 p.m., and I really had no idea how long it would take or how lost I would get on the way to Columbia.
But because I heard it would be a big crowd, I had already purchased the ticket, and what did I have to lose? I sprinted into the subway station, saw a 2 train was arriving, hurdled some objects O.J. Hertz-style and got on just in time.
Problem: I had no idea which way it was going. I stared at the map on the wall of the subway car, and tried to decipher it like some sort of hieroglyphics, when I heard "Wall Street, next stop." The Bally gods were on my side, I was heading north.
Still, it took 35 minutes to make it all the way to 116th St. I bolted from the train, was slightly discombobulated temporarily, but walked through the gates onto the beautiful campus of Columbia, which I couldn't appreciate: a) because it was dark, but - more importantly - b) because I had a game to get to that was already in progress.
I'm fairly sure I frightened the hell out of a few of the students as I was in full gallop with only a rough idea of where I was headed. A couple of wrong turns later, there was the Dodge Physical Fitness Center, in which you take the stairs down, but still enter on the fourth floor. But even though you get your ticket on the fourth floor, you get in Levien Gym on the second floor, so when I had finally made my way to see the basketball, it was halftime, and Columbia had a 27-22 lead.
I hate, abhor even, people that get to games late, and Columbia was indeed almost full for this one, meaning I had to squeeze into my seat. Making matters worse, the gym - predictably - was very warm, and I had just sprinted a few blocks with several layers of clothes on. I sincerely apologize to my neighbors for whatever sweat or stench went their way.
Anyway, back to on the court matters. Two years ago, Cornell was in the Sweet 16, while Columbia was, well, Columbia. The Lions haven't had a winning record in conference play since 1992-93, although Joe Jones seemed to have them at least competitive before jumping to become an assistant at Boston College (now head coach at Boston University).
This is Kyle Smith's second season in charge, and unfortunately for him, Columbia started Ivy play with tight home losses to Penn and Princeton, effectively ending their NCAA Tournament hopes (not that anyone expected them to challenge in the Ivy).
But Columbia came in to this game 11-7, while the Big Red were a not-so-big 6-10 (1-1 in Ivy play) under second-year coach Bill Courtney, so it wasn't shocking to see the score I did at the half.
The size of the crowd was a surprise, though, as was the traveling support. I had seen Cornell travel well when they took on Yale two years ago, but that game in New Haven clinched the Ivy League for the Big Red in 2010. That ain't happening this year, sorry Ithaca. It wasn't quite a 50-50 split, but I would estimate a 65-35 advantage for the home team Saturday.
Obviously, Courtney needs time, but Steve Donaghue's system (yeah, the one not really working at Boston College currently) involved a variety of defenses, misdirection, and good shooting, and Cornell showed none of those things Saturday night.
They did nearly steal the game at the end, though, with some intense full-court pressure that forced turnovers. Columbia center Mark Cisco had back-to-back jumpers to give the Lions a 52-43 lead with 4:30 left, but Cornell chipped away and got the lead down to two twice in the final minute before the home team held on for a big 61-56 win.
Smith is endorsed in the Columbia Basketball Yearbook by some guy named Kyle Welliston, the only media member quoted:
"If we haven't said it before, Kyle Smith was a fantastic hire (off the St. Mary's bench). Not only because he's got a good name. Great tactician."
- Kyle Welliston, MidMajority.com
He may have to hold a class for his student section at some point. They were there in force, but they didn't seem entirely sure what to do at times. They had to be urged on by canned "De-fense" chants, and seemed to be late to the punch on a few occasions.
On the way out, I overheard a student say, "Damn it. I meant to start the 'Safety school' chant and I forgot." Yes, even Ivy Leaguers need to be educated in the ways of proper basketball wit every once in a while. But the fact that the place was packed is a very, very good start.
With the train back to New Haven not leaving Grand Central until 10:20, I tried to take a quick tour of the campus, yet another place that I had shockingly never been. Well, maybe not so shocking, it's not like they were going to let me into their school with my test scores, were they? I did see the campus while watching Ghostbusters, I guess.
I got off at Times Square and walked the nine or so blocks to Grand Central, where the world squash championships were plopped in the middle. And, sure enough, just as I was heading to my train, boom, up popped a flash mob to get in my way.
So a flash mob complete with loud boom boxes and banana costumes juxtaposed with a world-class squash tournament on a Saturday night?
Only in New York.
As I strolled toward the Connecticut-bound train, the words and the tune came back into my head, "I don't have any reasons, I left them all behind. I'm in a Newwwww York state of mind."
at COLUMBIA 61, CORNELL 56 01/21/2012
CORNELL 6-11 (1-2) -- D. Ferry 5-9 0-0 13; C. Wroblewski 3-13 8-8 14; J. Gray 4-9 3-5 12; S. Miller 0-4 2-4 2; E. Chemerinski 2-4 0-0 4; D. Tarwater 1-3 0-0 2; G. Cancer 3-10 0-0 6; D. LaMore 1-3 0-0 2; J. Figini 0-0 0-0 0; D. Cherry 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 19-56 14-19 56. COLUMBIA 12-7 (1-2) -- B. Barbour 4-15 4-4 14; M. Cisco 5-9 8-9 18; M. Lyles 7-15 0-0 15; J. Daniels 1-2 0-0 2; A. Rosenberg 3-6 3-6 9; N. Springwater 1-4 0-0 3; D. Kowalski 0-0 0-0 0; S. Egee 0-1 0-0 0; B. Staab 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-53 15-19 61.
Three-point goals: CORN 4-19 (C. Wroblewski 0-7; J. Gray 1-1; D. Tarwater 0-2; D. Ferry 3-6; S. Miller 0-3), COLU 4-14 (S. Egee 0-1; B. Barbour 2-5; M. Lyles 1-5; A. Rosenberg 0-1; N. Springwater 1-2); Rebounds: CORN 26 (C. Wroblewski 6), COLU 41 (M. Cisco 20); Assists: CORN 8 (C. Wroblewski 5), COLU 14 (B. Barbour 5); Total Fouls -- CORN 17, COLU 16; Fouled Out: CORN-None; COLU-None.