NEW YORK -- Forty-eight years. Forty. Eight.
That's how long it's been since Columbia last made the NCAA Tournament, one of the longest droughts in the nation. Will this be the year Columbia finally gets to dance?
The dancing music hasn't been queued yet, but the Lions made sure to take care of business this weekend. The Lions defeated Harvard on Friday, then Dartmouth, 73-54, on Saturday.
Columbia (8-2 Ivy, 19-8) remains in third place but trails another school longing for a ticket to the Big Dance: Yale.
The Bulldogs (9-1, 18-5) - who haven't made the NCAA Tournament in 54 years - lost to Princeton over the weekend. The loss allows the Lions a chance to at least share the Ivy League title if they win out.
The Ivy League remains wide open, setting the scene for an entertaining final two weeks of the season. Columbia will travel to face Princeton (8-1, 18-5) next weekend, then host Yale in the final game of the season on March 5.
"We're just going to concentrate on Princeton," said Columbia coach Kyle Smith. "On to Princeton. That's been our mantra. We're just really trying to stay in the cocoon, and not get caught up with [the media]."
Saturday, Columbia went as far as its leader Maodo Lo took them. In the first half, Lo struggled to penetrate Dartmouth's defense. He went 0-for-7 from the field, including 0-for-4 from behind the arc.
Dartmouth led for most of the first half, but Columbia was able to take a 32-28 lead into the half.
Smith said it's nice when the Lo scores, but he does not think his team will go as far as its leading scorer will.
"When he scores, we can really separate," Smith said. "I didn't know if [Grant Mullins] could go, so I told him to get 40 tonight. I might have got him a little too stuck."
Columbia was able to separate in the second half when Lo came out hot.
Just two minutes in, Lo crossed over two defenders for a right-handed layup to give his team a 37-30 lead, their largest of the game. Just seconds later, Lo stole the ball and laid it up for an easy fast break layup.
Dartmouth would hang around, but Lo would break down the defense again for an easy layup with 13:33 to give his team a seven-point lead.
Lo checked out with 11:03 remaining, and his teammates passed the ball around the perimeter until they were forced to settle with a deep 3-point attempt from Lukas Meisner as the shot clock expired.
Lo checked back in on the next dead ball.
Lo finished with 14 points, 12 in the second half. His seven rebounds also led all players. Mullins, who almost didn't play because of the flu, led all scorers with 17.
Both seniors will obviously be key pieces to Columbia winning the Ivy. Lo's scoring will particularly be critical to open up his teammates.
Lo hit 11 threes in a road game against Princeton last season. The Lions will hope for a similar performance next weekend when they travel to face the Tigers.
For Lo, he said he feels something special with the Lions. He's aware that it's been 48 years since the last time Columbia danced, but he won't think about the history too much for now.
"We just have to keep on going," Lo said. "Once the season's over and once we achieved something, then it's time to celebrate and put everything in perspective."
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