Poor Shooting Dooms M. Hoops Against Columbia

NEW YORK—If it were up to Columbia guard Dalen Cuff and center Matt Land, the Lions would schedule Harvard every night.

For the second time this season, the duo—who started their second and first games of the season, respectively—torched the Crimson defense during Columbia’s 66-57 win at Levien Gymnasium Friday night.

Cuff and Land combined for 26 points after pairing for 28 in the teams’ first meeting, a 78-67 Columbia win at Harvard Jan. 31.

“They both have a very good sense of how to play off of other guys,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. “When our defense was in rotation and our guys were scrambling, all of a sudden there’s Cuff or Land opened up…They both had good series against us.”

After the Lions pushed their lead to five with 10:44 remaining, Harvard junior captain Jason Norman stole the ball from Columbia guard Allan MacQuarrie then finished with an emphatic dunk.

But that was the last gasp for the fading Crimson, as the Lions implemented a press, forcing the Crimson to commit several mistakes and allowing Columbia to post an 11-2 run over the next 3:13.

Land keyed the spurt, contributing five points, while Cuff closed it out with a three that gave the Lions their first double-digit lead of the contest.

Another Cuff three with 4:21 remaining gave Columbia a 14-point lead—its biggest of the contest—at 61-47.

Harvard closed the gap to nine just over a minute later, but missed three-pointers on three consecutive possessions, ending any hope of a comeback.

Sophomore forward Matt Stehle paced the Crimson out of the gate, scoring 10 of Harvard’s first 19 points as the team jumped out to an early four-point lead.

Stehle continued his strong play—recording 15 of his game-high 21 points in the first half—but Columbia’s three-point shooters heated up and nailed three trifectas in the final 6:23 of the half as the Lions outscored the Crimson 13-7 down the stretch to take a 29-27 lead into the break.

“[In the first half], they were able to throw the ball inside to [Stehle], and we weren’t doing a good job of attacking him right away,” Columbia coach Joe Jones said. “We were allowing him to put pressure on us. We needed to front him more, so we did that in the second half, and it was effective.”

Stehle was the lone bright spot for the Crimson, hitting a career-high 10 field goals and adding 12 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season. It was the fourth time this year he has eclipsed the 20-point, 10 rebound plateau.

Harvard stuck with Columbia early in the second half, staying within four of the Lions. The Crimson pulled even with Columbia on four separate occasions—the final time coming on two free throws by junior guard David Giovacchini with 12:55 remaining.

The Lions took control of the contest from there, cashing in from behind the arc and from the charity stripe to build a comfortable advantage.

Coming off a relatively efficient weekend in terms of controlling the ball, Harvard took a step back on Friday night, recording only eight assists compared to 23 turnovers.

“One of the schemes that they use is to try to make your offense ugly,” Sullivan said. “Right now, for us, that really becomes problematic. We don’t cut as well. We can’t get open as easily. We can’t get the ball on the floor…Then, we wind up watching and we’re not as effective on offense.”

The Crimson also failed to contain the Lions offense, as Columbia shot 48.9 percent from the field, nailing 43.4 percent of its three-point attempts. Ten Lion trifectas—compared to only two for Harvard—allowed Columbia to pull away in the contest.

“We tend to settle for threes,” Columbia coach Joe Jones said. “But that’s the strength of our team. We have some guys that can really shoot the ball well.”

The Crimson managed to hold the Ivy League’s fourth-leading scorer entering the contest—Lion forward Matt Preston—to eight points, only half of his season average.

“He’s coming off two tremendous games,” Sullivan said, “but tonight we anticipated him going for really big numbers and we held him to an average game in points and an average game in rebounding.”

—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at mrjames@fas.harvard.edu.