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Split-Second Decisions (Princeton-Columbia, 02.13.16)

NEW YORK – Columbia held the ball and a one-point lead with 10.2 seconds left, a double-digit second half lead thisclose to turning into abject misery and a devastating loss. Guard Maodo Lo, the team’s leading scorer and one of its senior leaders, then found himself open, catching a deep inbounds pass from CJ Davis and heading towards the rim.

Split-second decision No. 1: take the easy layup, or dribble around and play keep-away, bleeding clock and ebbing Princeton’s hopes of victory.

Lo, who scores so easily that he climbs out of bed ready to put points on the board, decided on the layup. Columbia up 3, eight seconds left.

Split-second decision No. 2 for Columbia: foul or not to foul with Princeton dribbling the ball up court. Unfortunately for the Lions, Tiger freshman guard Devin Cannady pulled up for a three-pointer from about 30 feet, not allowing any Columbia player even near him before any decision on fouling could be executed.

The long-range three went through the net pure, tying the score and setting up Princeton to win the game in overtime. In a split second, the biggest challenger to undefeated Yale for the Ivy League changed from the senior-laden Lions to senior-less Tigers.

Both Princeton and Columbia entered the game with one Ivy League loss, and both have a glut of home games remaining to chase down Yale. (Both Columbia and Princeton still have to play host to Yale.) Only one would come away as the nearest – and, maybe, only legitimate – challenger to Yale for the Ivy League regular-season title, and the NCAA Tournament bid that comes with it.

The Tigers came away with the win, coming back from a 12-point first half deficit and an 11-point deficit in the second half after they had cut Columbia’s lead to four at halftime. Just for good measure, Princeton let the Lions score the first seven points of overtime before closing the extra session on a 12-0 run.

“Columbia is a very good team, and we were lucky to be going into overtime,” said head coach Mitch Henderson after the game, still somewhat in disbelief that his team was able to pull off another come-from-behind win on the road in the league. The Orange and Black had come back from an 11-point deficit in the final 3:39 of regulation to defeat Penn in overtime at The Palestra in overtime on Jan. 9.

Henderson continued: “While you’re fortunate and need lucky bounces to go your way, you have to believe you can do it, and we had a game like this against Penn and we came back from down 11. They don’t quit, and there’s a lot of fight with this group.”

All it takes is a split second for a change of fortune or a lucky bounce to occur. It happened tonight just south of Harlem, and Princeton may very well be heading towards an Ivy League title afterward.

[Cover photo (Devin Cannady) courtesy of Abel Fermin/Princeton Athletics]

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